Posted on October 26, 2006 at 7:38 pm

This week marks the first time since May of 2001 that I’ve had a new show go into rehearsal for a production. In the five and a half years since Norbert and Lauren started working on “The Last Five Years,” I’ve been through a lot: professionally, I did “Urban Cowboy,” released a solo album, performed about a hundred concerts, conducted orchestras all over the world, wrote a piano sonata, and started teaching at USC; and personally, I got married, had a beautiful baby girl, moved to Italy, moved again to Los Angeles, and, just three weeks ago, I lost my Dad to pancreatic cancer.

I come into this rehearsal process a considerably different person than the guy who wrote “The Last Five Years.” I walked into the rehearsal room at the Mark Taper Forum on Tuesday and was faced with a cast of thirteen extraordinarily talented young people, and it is an awesome and powerful feeling to share this process with them. I am entrusting them with my work, my art, bringing my vision into the world, and they are entrusting me with their selves, their openness, the story of their lives. When I was 13, I wouldn’t have understood that bargain, and I don’t know if these kids do; I suspect they’re just happy to get a chance to do what they love doing (and to miss school for several months). But now for me, at 36, I see so clearly that what we’re doing in that room is part of their future. I am overwhelmed with the awareness that all of the grownups on this show are setting an example, we’re all being watched in one way or another. Obviously, this show is a step I’m taking professionally and I’m very conscious of that, but what I didn’t know until we started rehearsal is that this show is a step I’m taking personally. This is part of my life now, bringing young performers into what I do and opening myself to what they have to bring. It makes me so sad that my Dad isn’t around to see it. He was plenty proud of me already, but I would have loved it if he could watch me run a music rehearsal with these kids. I think of how I must channel my Mom when I’m teaching (she was an English teacher for many years and still tutors privately), and I bet my Dad would have recognized that, seen the similarities, enjoyed watching both my Mom’s talent and his own artistic dreams filtered through this one man. I got thirty-six years with him, he got to meet his granddaughter, I’m not ungrateful for any of that, believe me, I just… Well, this is what everyone feels when they lose a parent, isn’t it? I just wanted a little bit more.

Dan Elish and I started working on “13” in 2003, and I wrote the first song while I was teaching at a musical theater academy in Denmark (what?) in March 2004. Because neither of us had ever worked on a show that asked so much of teenagers, we decided to do a reading of the first half of the show, just for us, so we could see what this material felt like in the hands of actual kids – since it had been so long since either of us was actually 13, I was worried that what we were writing would sound completely inauthentic. So we did a reading on September 11, 2004 at Lincoln Center Theater, and we were delighted to find out that my fears were completely unfounded. What we were also delighted to find was a group of amazing young singers and actors who could do pretty much whatever we asked of them. They sang the score so well that we decided to go into the studio and record their performances. That demo is what convinced Michael Ritchie to sign on to “13” and give us this production at the Taper, so I am grateful in many ways to that first cast (one of whom actually auditioned for the show in New York and got cast in this production!).

The role of Patrice will be played at the Taper by an incredible young actress named Sara Niemietz, but the first person to play the part was Krista Pioppi, an adorable girl with an unbelievable voice. In this song, Patrice and Evan (the new kid in school) have just had a nasty altercation, and Archie (who’s friends with both of them) asks Patrice why she doesn’t like Evan anymore. She responds with this song. (I may yet monkey around with some of these lyrics, so bear in mind it’s a demo.)

“What It Means To Be A Friend” from 13 (2008)
Music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown
Krista Pioppi: vocals
JRB: piano/conductor
Kevin Kuhn: acoustic guitar
Randy Landau: electric bass
Rich Mercurio: drums and percussion
Recorded and mixed by Jeffrey Lesser at Right Track Recording Studios, NY NY, September 12, 2004

I can’t wait until you can all see this show, I feel like it’s been gestating for a long time – probably about twenty-three years. In the meantime, I’ll try and keep you updated on all the goings-on in rehearsal. Thanks for listening.