Posted on January 7, 2007 at 10:46 pm
Here’s what you have to know: there were about forty critics in the house today, as best as I can tell. I didn’t look at them, I didn’t talk to them, I haven’t heard anything about what they may or may not write. I don’t know anything about the reviews for this show, and at this moment, 10:50 PM on Sunday night, January 7, 2007, unless you’re one of the critics, neither do you.
So in that void of received opinion, I’m going to cast out my thoughts on 13 and the opening performance this afternoon.
It was awesome. I have never been more proud of a group of performers in my entire life. Those kids hit every mark, landed every laugh, danced their asses off, broke my heart a million times, sang like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the Sounds of Blackness combined, and got the audience up on their feet. They were amazing.
It has not always been thus.
A number of screwy things happened on the way to opening night, many of them completely out of my control. We started rehearsal with only two-thirds of the show written, which I hope to God I am never stupid enough to do again. We fired a cast member (you try telling a wonderful, sweet twelve-year-old that he’s going home) and had to replace him three weeks into rehearsals. We changed our entire conception of not one but two characters and the actors had to go along for that ride. And most importantly, because of child labor laws in the state of California, we went into our first preview without having ever run through the show. We never had a 10-out-of-12, never had a sitzprobe, we lost one of our leads for five previews because of the flu, and amidst all of that, Dan and I were trying to figure out what parts of the show really worked and what parts didn’t.
And did I mention that it was an entire cast of teenagers? No, wait, stop, think about that. Every single performer on that stage is under the age of 17 (and in fact, they’re all 15 or younger except for that one 17-year-old). Think of the sheer effort involved in getting thirteen teenagers to be quiet and focus. Even the cast members who are reading this will have to acknowledge that that’s completely insane. I called it “lassoing butterflies.”
And it was that bunch of raging hormones that had to absorb everything we did over the course of these twelve previews: changed 34 pages of dialogue, cut an entire scene, replaced the entire setup, staging, choreography and lighting design of the last number in the show, added three new orchestrations, and re-did countless little bits of staging, all while trying to tighten and clean up what was already in place.
The cast did great at the first preview, but we as the creators did not. We had a lot to learn about the show, how it worked best, and what made it come to life. I believe that if we had had a more traditional tech schedule, we would have known more, but I could be wrong. Regardless, what happened at the Taper over the last three weeks is exactly what the preview period is supposed to be about: we used a wonderfully responsive audience to tell us when the show was working and when it wasn’t, and when we found out what wasn’t working, we all pulled out our pencils, our laptops, our dance shoes, whatever we needed, and we tried to fix it. I haven’t worked so hard during previews on any show except for Urban Cowboy, and to be honest, I’m not sure all that work we did on Urban Cowboy ever helped.
I don’t know if we caught everything in 13; I know the show isn’t absolutely dead-on perfect. But we took the time we had and we got as close as we could, and when I sat down and watched the show today (the very first time I’ve watched the show without holding a notebook and a flashlight), I thought, “You know what? This show is really cool.”
If the idea of seeing a show with a whole cast of 13-year-olds makes you tense, if the very concept of a bunch of teens jumping around on stage sets your teeth on edge, “13” is everything you’re afraid it’s going to be. It’s a big, goofy, funny, warm-hearted, very energetic show about a bunch of teens jumping around. That’s exactly what I wanted to write, and I am immensely proud of it. But it’s not Sweeney Todd, it’s not Rent, it’s not Spring Awakening. It is its own special, crazy, life-affirming thing. I couldn’t have written it when I was 25; in fact, I don’t think I could have crossed the finish line without having a child of my own. There are any number of jaded old show queens who simply cannot abide the idea of a family-oriented musical theater; it strikes them as the dumbing-down of everything they hold dear. “Who will write Follies or Grey Gardens if all anyone writes is Beauty and the Beast?” I don’t think those two kinds of musicals are mutually exclusive, and I think I’ve already done my bit to write the hard-nosed, dark-edged pieces. I’m entitled to something shiny.
I’m writing all this because I didn’t know until today if this show worked. I’ll never know if it works for “everybody,” I don’t know any piece that does. But I didn’t know until today if this show worked for me. And what I can tell you, with every confidence and no dissembly, is: it works like gangbusters.
I don’t know the reviewers in Los Angeles, I don’t know their styles or preferences, it’s all kind of a new world to me out here, so I can’t predict what they’ll say. But I know what I saw today was a great big smash hit, and that was the most awesome thing in the world. Congratulations to Todd, and to Dan, and to Michele, and to David and Craig, and all the designers and assistants, and especially to these wonderful, exasperating, sensationally talented kids that have taken over my life for the past three months. I can only do what I do when I’m surrounded and supported by such incredible talent. Thank you all.