Unlike in film, young adults in musical theater rarely get to portray characters their own age. Typically, alongside the adult characters, shows have one or two young characters that are usually around nine or ten years old. A few well known examples include Gavroche and Young Cosette from Les Miserables and Young Elsa and Young Anna from Frozen. Despite the presence of these roles for children, shows with parts for teenagers rarely crop up. Thus, when one such show does occur, it’s a pretty big deal and tends to draw a fair amount of attention.
Perhaps the most prominent of shows with teenage roles is Jason Robert Brown’s 13: The Musical. And, taking it one step further, 13 stars a completely teenage cast and band. The show follows almost 13-year-old Evan Goldman, a Jewish boy who moves from New York to Indiana when his parents split up. With his bar mitzvah right around the corner, Evan makes it his mission to get Brett, a football player, and Kendra, the head cheerleader, to come to his party. Hopeful that Brett and Kendra’s presence will attract a large crowd, Evan tries to maneuver himself into a position of popularity at his new school. However, while spending his time and efforts to get things arranged, he ends up ostracizing his two real friends — Patrice and Archie — who are generally considered “uncool” by the popular crowd (Patrice prefers reading to cheerleading and gossip, and Archie is on crutches, due to his muscular dystrophy). Things end up going awry when Evan agrees to help both Archie and Brett get a date with Kendra, at the same time and place. Although 13: The Musical only ran on Broadway for a year, it’s well known for jumpstarting the careers of some big names, such as Ariana Grande, Graham Phillips, and Liz Gillies.
The reason that I really like 13 is that it doesn’t talk down to its audience. It portrays a believable experience of being a teenager without turning it into a cheesy cliche, as happens with most entertainment specifically geared towards young people. And though written with teen actors in mind, its vocal score doesn’t cut young performers any slack. It’s just as challenging to sing as most other musicals with a fully adult cast.
13: The Musical, though originally premiering on Broadway in 2008, has experienced a bit of a resurgence over the past few years. While the show has always had a cult following of sorts among fans of Jason Robert Brown’s music and those who can find themselves in the story, interest in the show peaked over the last few years due to Netflix’s 2019 announcement of plans for a film adaptation in 2020. To find a cast of 13 students, Netflix held an open national casting call, for which anyone could audition. Part of the purpose of this was to help find actors who not only could fill the large footsteps of the original Broadway cast, but also help to update and diversify the story.
Though the general chaos at the start of the coronavirus pandemic put a bit of a hold on Netflix’s plans, the film version of 13, directed by Tamra Davis, is set to begin its postponed production in 2021. Even if we are out of quarantine by the time the film is released, it should be an interesting experience to see what the new creative team has to offer with their vision for the show.