13: A Teen-aged Musical
A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis
By: Virginia Rep/Cadence Theatre Company
At: Theatre Gym, Virginia Repertory Center, 114 W. Broad St., RVA 23220
Performances: October 26 – November 17, 2019
Ticket Prices: Single tickets start at $42
Info: (804) 282-2620 or va-rep.org
The musical 13 with its high-energy cast of teenagers starts off at a level 10 and pretty much stays there for the duration. The first – and so far only – Broadway musical to have a cast made up entirely of teenagers, the Richmond casts of 13 ranges in age from 12-17. Yes, casts. That was not a typo. Cadence Theatre’s Artistic Director, Anna Senechal Johnson, worked with two casts that will alternate throughout the run. I assumed this was because of the youthful ages of the cast, but in speaking with Johnson after Friday’s opening night program – a second opening night will be held on Saturday for the second cast – it seems that the dual casts are also a way to fulfill the company’s mission and “commitment to development and training for young actors all over Virginia.” Indeed, several of the young actors – and their parents or guardians – commute to Richmond for this show from as far as Northern Virginia and Maryland.
Written by Jason Robert Brown (music and lyrics) and Dan Elish and Robert Horn (book), 13 chronicles several months in the life of Evan, played on Friday by Brandon McKinney. Evan is looking forward to his bar mitzvah, when he gets hit with not one but two major blows: first his parents divorce, then his mother informs him they are moving from New York City – the only hone he has ever known – to a Smalltown, USA, or Appleton, Indiana, to be precise.
Evan befriends Patrice (Bridget Sindelar) before finding out she is a social outcast, and in a heart-wrenching scene, he un-invites her to his party so that the popular kids will attend. Patrice is played by Bridget Sindelar, whom my daughter Soleil immediately recognized as Pinocchio from the VirginiaRep children’s show last season. [https://jdldancesrva.com/2019/03/31/pinocchio-bright-and-shining-son ]. Sindelar nails the character of Patrice, but more importantly, her singing is strong and here range impressive.
Evan’s action catches the attention of Patrice’s best friend, Archie (Ethan Phelps) – a classmate with an unnamed debilitating condition (muscular dystrophy, according to a synopsis of the script) that requires that he use crutches to walk. This makes him an object of ridicule to the popular kids, but that doesn’t stop him from plotting and planning to manifest his deepest fantasy. Archie has a crush on Kendra (Audrey Kate Taylor) and quickly enlists Evan to help jock-boy Brett (Donathan Arnold) secure a date with the ever-popular Kendra, with the ulterior motive of inserting himself in the role of leading man. The boys hatch a plan that at first seems successful – but if that were the case, the play would have ended here instead of continuing to its conclusion.
The lively music under the direction of Anthony Smith is played by a live band, most of whom are onstage in front of us but some of them are placed behind the audience. There is energetic choreography – 13 even included a tap dance – by Jasmine Mckenzie that is created and performed with a sense of ordered chaos that perfectly captures the teen-aged characters. A simple cinderblock set by Emily Hake Massie hides a few surprises that are revealed when doors swing out to create new spaces. Sarah Grady’s costumes are contemporary, with most of the cast – especially the ensemble – dressed in neutral shades like gray, but Evan sports a red plaid shirt, and other leading characters break out of the gray mold with bits of color.
Patrice/Sindelar is full of wisdom, but also has some of the funniest lines in the show. When introducing Evan/McKinney to the town of Appleton, she points out the highlights, like the Walmart and Dairy Queen, but also drops lines like, “The inbreeding takes up a lot of our time.”
Brett/Arnold is the cool, handsome quarterback, and is stereotypically vain and not the sharpest knife in the drawer. His buddies Eddie (Owen Buckenmaier) and Malcolm (Jake Barger) are loyal, hilarious sidekicks. When trying to help Brett prepare to ask Kendra (Audrey Kate Taylor), the prettiest girl in Dan Quail Middle School, they metamorphose into R&B backup singers. Although why the star quarterback and most popular boy on campus needs help getting a date is beyond me. Taylor plays her role with wide-eyed innocence and it’s irritating when she doesn’t seem to catch on to her friend’s betrayal.
Teen-agers can be some of the meanest people on earth, so it is no surprise that there is a Mean Girl in 13. Lucy (Jolie Smith) is supposed to be Kendra’s best friend, but she wants Brett for herself, and does everything she can to get Kendra out of the way: bullying; tripping her during cheerleader practice; giving conflicting advice about how to behave around a boy; and starting a vicious rumor. I suppose why 13 year old students are dating is irrelevant, but one scene hinges around Evan asking his mother to buy movie tickets to an R-rated movie for Evan and his popular friends. The sneer Smith wears whenever Kendra is around is so convincing I began to actively dislike Lucy.
Mia Meadows and Hannah Riggs share the lead in the closing song in a breakout surprise, after performing in the ensemble and the cheerleading squad for most of the play. Brenna Duffy stood in for Zoë Brown on Friday, taking over Zoë’s duties as Rabbi. Because of the huge size of the cast – when doubled – I will let the words of the press release fill in the missing notes:
Returning to the Cadence stage in the Appleton Cast are Violet Craghead-Way (Fun Home), Caroline Johnson (Appropriate), Grace Connell (Appropriate), and Sophia Bunnell (Violet). Returning in the Indiana Cast are Brandon McKinney (Fun Home; Caroline, or Change), Donathan Arnold (Caroline, or Change), and Alex Csaky (Fun Home). Making their Cadence debuts in the Appleton Cast are Evan Dymon, Josh Chapman, Cohen Steele, Anjali Sharma, Ethan Dunne Stewart, Marcus Dowd, Emma McClain, Autumn Papczynski, Molly Nugent, Sam Hurst, Raif Winn, Brenna Duffy, Gracie Farrell, and Lauren Brabrand. Debuting in the Indiana Cast are Bridget Sindelar, Ethan Phelps, Audrey Kate Taylor, Jolie Smith, Owen Buckenmaier, Jake Barger, Molly Rose Meredith, Mia Meadows, Bekah Blackburn, Sawyer Williams, Jack Hensley, Mia Krivanec, Zoë Brown, Madelyn Diradour, and Sarah Kathryn Makl. Performing with both casts will be Hannah Riggs and Christopher Stone. Mason Timberline will be joining the cast as the pianist/Master Conductor.
So, it appears I was led along this theatrical musical journey by the very capable Appleton cast. On Saturday I will go back to see how the Indiana cast conducts themselves along this same path, and I’ll report back to you.
13 is a lively, upbeat show tackles real-life teen-aged problems: popularity; peer pressure; bullying, and more. And every single one of the teens onstage has a cellphone in their pocket; they frequently take them out for a selfie or to record some controversy or other. There is even a one-page Study Guide included in the program that asks some interesting questions, such as “How has technology changed social expectations for adolescents?” and “What does the musical, 13, teach us about friendship and prioritizing personal relationships.
Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.
Photo Credits: Jay Paul