Theatre Mania
Michael Portantiere

“Evan’s parents have had a catastrophic divorce. His mother has dragged him away to the middle of Indiana and is insisting that he have his bar mitzvah there, but she’s not going to invite his father or anyone else in the family; it’s going to be a local bar mitzvah, even though they don’t know anybody in town and he’s the only Jew for miles. So Evan is trying to figure out what to do on what’s supposed to be the most important day of his life.”
This is the setup of the new musical 13 as described by composer-lyricist Jason Robert Brown, whose previous credits include Parade (for which he won a Tony Award), The Last Five Years, and Songs for a New World. The show is set for a December 22-February 18 run at the Mark Taper Forum in L.A. It has a book by noted children’s literature author Dan Elish and is directed by Todd Graff, who helmed the film Camp. And get this: The cast and the band consist entirely of young teenagers.
“The kids are the whole show,” says Brown. “There are no adults to take it over from them, like Dorothy Loudon in Annie. They have to do it all, and it’s so exciting to watch them own the stage.” Was it hard for Brown to put himself in the mindset of a kid while writing the score? “There were times when it was alarmingly easy to find that place, to remember what it was like to be that young and vulnerable. Other times, it was more difficult; my ideas were right, but I was expressing them like a 36-year-old. So I had to tear all of that away and find out how a kid would say the same things.”
The growing pains depicted in the show should be familiar not only to adolescent Jewish boys but to kids of all creeds, ethnicities, and socio-economic backgrounds. Says Brown: “When Evan’s rabbi asks him what’s so terrible about not being popular, Evan sings a song called ‘Being a Geek.’ The show is about trying to find how and where you fit in, learning to be comfortable with who you are as opposed to who you think you’re supposed to be. I think that’s universal.”
— M.P.