Posted on October 6, 2008 at 11:25 pm

Musical Mazel Tov For Heartland Teens
New York Post, October 6, 2008

RATING: 3 out of 4 stars

I can’t remember the last Broadway musical with a big Torah number. Then again, I can’t re member a leading man six years shy of legal drinking age.

All that (and more) adds up to “13,” the disarmingly charming new musical that opened last night.

With a raw, rousing score by Jason Robert Brown sung by a cast of 13- to 17-year-olds, it’s Sondheim for MySpacers – the perfect show for those too old for Disney, too young for “Spring Awakening,” and too impatient to wait for a new block of “Wicked” tickets.

Actually, it wouldn’t have hurt if Dan Elish and Robert Horn had gotten a bit more wicked with their book. This one does for teens what “In the Heights” does for Latinos – airbrushes them into some G-rated version of the real thing: a middle school minus zits, profanity and obvious orthodontia.

“13” turns on Evan Goldman (15-year-old Graham Phillips), a New Yorker on the cusp of manhood. His bar mitzvah’s coming up, and he’s all set – until his parents’ divorce sends him off to small-town Indiana (looking like an ashy, Ansel Adams landscape in David Farley’s witty set).Then again, there hasn’t been this much talk about “getting tongue” since “Cry-Baby” left town. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

Evan’s soon befriended by the smart, sweet Patrice (the winsome Allie Trimm), a Betty adrift in a sea of Veronicas. Surprise: Patrice isn’t popular. And if Evan wants a full house doing the hora, he’s going to have to dump her.

Will he refuse to kowtow to the cool kids and stand by the friend who counts? Are the Jonas Brothers on YouTube?

As well-traveled as the road is, this one’s full of delightful detours – like the perils of stealing a kiss during a slasher flick. Brown, the 38-year-old Tony-winning composer of “Parade” and “The Last Five Years,” has written some catchy numbers and at least one winsome ballad, “What It Means To Be a Friend,” that clearly registered with its young audience.

Director Jeremy Sams gets a few standout performances, notably from Elizabeth Egan Gillies, 15, whose lacerating Lucy, all cellphone and attitude, is a junior-varsity Joan Crawford. And should they ever mount a teen version of “The Producers,” they’ll find a fine Leo Bloom in Aaron Simon Gross, whose disabled character has a secret swagger in his crutches.

The show ends with a pure “School of Rock” note, as members of the ensemble bust some moves and sing their hearts out.

Heartening, too, is seeing so many Abercrombie-clad butts in theater seats. Will these kids pass from here to “South Pacific” or “Sweeney Todd,” or will this be as challenging as live theater gets?

Only time will tell. Meanwhile, should the folks at “Jersey Boys” find themselves short a Four Season, they should get a gander at these new kids on the block.