13 The Musical
The Ambassadors Theatre
Reviewed – 16th August 2017
” … the young cast bring believability and depth …”
13 The Musical brings together a teenage cast and the music of famed Broadway lyricist Jason Robert Brown, to produce a tale on the soaring highs and damning woes of pre-teenhood. Following the big city kid moves to a sleepy town model, the show chronicles Evan Goldman (Milo Panni) in his pursuit of acceptance in the social hierarchy of school. With all the classics of high school drama, 13 is high spirited and unashamed of its deep dive into teen culture.
The show reaps the full benefits of having such a young cast from the British Theatre Academy. Bringing believability and depth to an otherwise somewhat flat story and set, their fresh faced enthusiasm and talent ensures the show never lags. The snappy wisecracks, a few on the uncomfortable side when spoken by a twelve year old and clearly written by a forty year old man, are funny nonetheless and the laughs flow throughout.
Jason Robert Brown’s music is by far the stand out of the show. His particular brand of emotive, cynical and quick lyrics find some genuine emotional impact when belted out by the young cast. Through a fizzing opening number (“Thirteen/Becoming a Man”) to awkward first dates at the movies (“Any Minute”), the music allows the young cast to show off their energy.
On the other hand, the shows biggest problem is the story itself. Initially feeling like the first 10 minutes of High School Musical, that preteen cultural marker of the noughties, holds clear influence over 13. With the clever music and lyrics to thank, the show unfurls into something definitely wittier, but just as simplistic. In place of teeny bopping pop, the audience has middle school satire and a stock of predictable characters. A big mean sports bully, his loyal followers, the dim-witted beauty, a scheming cheerleader, and the lovable band of misfits welcoming our hero to his new life of suburban hell. It’s hardly ground-breaking stuff.
The most obvious flaw in the show is that it’s not this simple. Chase popularity and be saddled with unauthentic wannabes. Or accept your fate as a social pariah and find some genuine friends. Its well-worn ground. The truth of being a teenager lies somewhere with the nameless supporting characters of 13. Teenhood is almost never lived in the polarising worlds of geek or jock. In this regard the show is pandering to its adult audience. Pretending school was a living nightmare is often how we account for the somewhat average reality of being a teenager. 13 celebrates the melodramatic stereotypes of 21st century youth, not entirely truthful, but funny enough to keep the audience content in their seats.
Reviewed by Isabelle Boyd
Photography by Roy Tan
13 THE MUSICAL
is at The Ambassadors Theatre until 23rd August