Friday, 21 May 2010 00:00
Not everyone has good memories of being thirteen; it’s a time rife with uncertainty, awkwardness, and all manner of skin-related troubles. That’s why it’s such a credit to the Cultural Arts Playhouse production of 13, a musical by Jason Robert Brown intended for an all-teen cast, that they make that time in one’s life seem so appealing in retrospect.
The show itself oscillates between a traditional Broadway-style musical and a more modern take on adolescence; while these kids are rather post-modern and tech-savvy (Youtube gets a mention), the show sticks closely to the nerd/quarterback/ cheerleader character archetypes that have dominated stories about the adventures of this age bracket for decades. However, perhaps the fact that these 13-year-olds often seem more like high school students (both because of the script, and because of the apparent age of many of the actors) can be taken as an indication that “kids these days” are growing up rather fast. In any event, 13 represents a good balance between the good, clean fun of an old-fashioned musical, and something more palatable to fans of sophisticated, ironic humor.
The story centers on Evan Goldman (Jesse Pimpinella), a boy relocated from his New York City home to small-town Indiana right before his all-important Bar Mitzvah, and chronicles his attempts to fit into his new life- and get the right group of kids to show up at his party, of course. Some of the more cutting humor in the play revolves around Evan’s status as the lone Jewish boy in town; “That’s the problem with your people, you don’t trust anybody!” quips Danielle Jenkin’s dismissive Lucy when Evan (wisely) questions her motives.
Similarly, the plight of the crutches-toting Archie, who wants a date with the school’s prettiest cheerleader before dying of an unnamed degenerative disease, is treated with more flippancy than the audience might expect. “Who could complain- well, except for you because you’re dying,” sings Pimpinella sweetly, during the aptly named Terminal Illness number. With the story resolving with an affirmation of the power of true friendship, it’s a sweet story, but hardly an innocuous one.
The CAP production is very near flawless, with powerful singing and energetic choreography. It is in fact so good, that failing to offer any criticism whatsoever would be akin to an insult; it’s much closer to a full-on Broadway play than a local production by a small theater, and as such deserves to be taken seriously. There were minor audio issues; the cast was using headset mikes, which seemed to work better for some vocalists than others. While most of the performers sounded fine, a few were too quiet, and a few were occasionally too loud. This is something that CAP will no doubt refine in future productions.
In addition, some of the acting was a little over the top, particularly when members of the cast had to react to some of the stranger antics of their peers. However, all of the actors proved that they could successfully tone it down during the quieter moments, meaning that the broadness of some of the acting was more likely a directorial choice than any deficiency on the part of the cast- sometimes, there can be a fine line between hamming it up and simply having stage presence, and one can’t blame the production for wanting err on the side of fun.
Jesse Pimpinella is charming and completely convincing as Evan, a smart but mercurial boy who thinks he will be on the cool team for life, if only he can only get the popular kids to come to his Bar Mitzvah. Brooke Grossman is eminently sympathetic as Patrice, the unpopular girl who’s torn between her crush on Evan and her disgust at his shameless pandering towards the in-crowd. Danielle Jenkin is delightful as the scheming Lucy, and manages to somehow keep her characterization likable throughout the play despite being the ostensible villain of the piece- quite an accomplishment, considering what the manipulative cheerleader does to everyone. Michael Marmann is pitch-perfect as the consummate geek Archie, finding the self-mocking humor in the character while still portraying him as intelligent and wise-beyond his years.
Among the other standouts, while Michael Kinzelberg did not get as much of the spotlight in the smaller role of Simon, one of Evan and Archie’s classmates, he did momentarily steal the show with a surprise gymnastics combination. Similarly scene-stealing were Jacob Levy, Dylan Perlman, and Dalon Bradley in the roles of Brett, Eddie and Malcom, respectively; their performance of the silly Hey Kendra was hysterically funny. Even those in the cast who had few, if any, lines, impressed with their singing.
13 has completed its limited run at CAP; next, the playhouse will be presenting Young People’s Theater Zombie Prom from July 16 through August 1. CAP is also currently accepting registrations for the Cultural Arts Performing Arts Camp (CPAC), which is run in conjunction with the Mid-Island Y JCC. For more information about CAP, visit their website at http://web.me.com/capcenter/Site/Welcome.html.