13 The Musical
North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre
Through March 26
Adolescent transitions are already tough. Then life finds little ways to raise the stakes. Evan Goldman, the central character in Jason Robert Brown’s engaging musical, 13, is already facing the expectations and responsibilities surrounding his thirteenth birthday and upcoming bar mitzvah. That’s before his parents suddenly break up and he’s forced to move with his mom from the Upper West Side of New York to Appleton, Indiana, a town that Patrice, a social misfit at the local junior high, poetically terms “the lamest place in the world.”
That culture shock alone would be enough to give some adults an interpersonal case of the bends. But in Evan’s case, it takes place at the start of eighth grade in a new school in a new state. And that is more than enough to pressurize the driving opening song and dance number, “13/Becoming a Man,” before composer Brown raises the bar even further by setting parts of the piece in 13/4, a complicated time signature calculated to challenge singers, dancers, and choreographers alike.
Directors Joel and Paige Rainey have cultivated a set of strong performances in the lead and supporting roles for this North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre production. That’s worthy of note given the casting restrictions that traditionally accompany this unusual musical, namely, the actors onstage are teenagers themselves.
An unsinkable Brian Bunch sparkles as Evan, and he’s backed up by strong showings from Averi Zimmerman as Patrice and Keith Peterson as the super-intelligent—and emotionally Machiavellian—Archie.
Humor comes from Sterling Jones’s take on Brett, a half-lit ultra-jock, and his not-that-suave posse, including greaser Malcolm (Grayson Giugno) and good-time guy Eddie (Micah Jordan). It’s comically cringe-inducing when the trio tries out a slow soul groove in “Hey, Kendra,” a petition to the most desirable cheerleader at Dan Quayle Junior High. Still, Brett gets the girl—at least until her envious frenemy Lucy (Lauren Moore) steps in.
As the social strata coalesces, Evan’s loyalties are repeatedly challenged in the conflict between Patrice and Archie’s nerd contingent and the supposedly cool kids. As Evan tries to manipulate events, he finds himself being manipulated instead by players on both sides. A competition between Lucy and Kendra (Chloe Hulgan) complicates the social algebra even more.
Among performers this young, occasional pitch problems are to be expected and they were apparent in several moments. Elsewhere, Todd Houseknecht and Keith Bugner’s sound didn’t always amplify or balance out various soloists. Still, the choral and ensemble harmonies were noticeably strong throughout under Michael Santangelo’s musical direction.
Though staging popped in sequences like the gossip-laden “It Can’t Be True,” an all but nonexistent set and sometimes static blocking gave a threadbare feel to other scenes and solos.
Still, the emotional velocity in the philosophical song of self-acceptance, “If That’s What It Is,” and the touching thoughts in “A Little More Homework,” held truths beyond such tender years. As everyone who’s been there knows, thirteen’s not a perfect time, and 13’s not a perfect show. But as a chronicle of the absurdities and sudden insights of a changing time, it’s more than worth a listen.