Seattle Premiere of 13 from Broadway Bound at ACT Theatre
Also see David's review of Ham for the Holidays
Broadway Bound is but one of many fine training programs for youth in theatre in the greater Seattle area, but the company definitely scored this past weekend, with the support of ACT Theatre, in presenting Jason Robert Brown's 13 in a joyful, inspiring production, and with the author in attendance and also performing in a solo concert to support the company. Seeing an early performance of 13 was gift enough, but then getting nearly 90 minutes of Brown's rousing songs and patter? Well let's say Christmas came early for this journalist.
Cast of 13
13, based on the book by Dan Elish and Robert Horn, follows its young protagonist, Jewish, Manhattan-reared Evan to the smallest of small mid-west towns in Indiana, as his parents split up not long before his 13th birthday and bar mitzvah. In an effort to get in with the school's "cool" kids, Evan does everything wrong, and risks alienating a shy girl named Patrice and a handicapped boy named Archie, who are the only kids showing any real, honest friendship potential with Evan. Misadventure piles upon misadventure and misunderstandings, but in a realistic way that separates this show from the High School Musical genre. The piece has abundant heart and humor, and it may be my favorite Jason Robert Brown score since Parade, which it is of course very different. I especially like the songs "Tell Her," "If That's What It Is" and "A Little More Homework," but most importantly it is a cohesive, honest, non-pandering musical for the under 18 set that also plays well to the rest of us.
Broadway Bound Executive Director Jimmy Nixon directs the captivating young cast skillfully. He could not have found a more apropos young thespian than Adam Westerman to embody the central role of Evan, and much the same can be said for Elliott Moore as Patrice and Tyler Maez as Archie. Other standouts are Michael Kaczkowski, whose offbeat looks and presence make him a daring but right choice for the role of footballer Brett; Sarah Torres, who nails the scheming Lucy; and Mary Armintrout as the vapid beauty Kendra. Sonia Dawkins gives the ensemble vibrant choreography to perform, and the musical direction of Barbra Lynne Jamison is accomplished, aside from the band now and then being so loud that lyrics get lost. Norm Spencer and Martin Christoffel's set is functional, versatile and eye catching, and up and coming lighting designer Robert Aguilar delivers the goods with his work.
The Jason Robert Brown concert that followed was a one-man wow of a show. In his first significant return to Seattle in the eleven years since conducting the Parade national tour, Brown the performer, a super-charged, bracingly funny, occasionally foul mouthed (he apologized to the kids in the house) entertainer, gave his all in the service of Brown the composer-lyricist. It was great to hear his own take on the haunting "Old Red Hills of Home" from Parade, and he sneaked in songs from in-the-works musical versions of two films: Bridges of Madison Countythe selection "Wondering" may play better in the show itself; and Honeymoon in Vegas, whose "When You Say Vegas" sounds like little you've ever heard from Brown's pen, and got the crowd cheering.
Doing the concert for Broadway Bound, and working with students the next day, Jason Robert Brown certainly earned my respect. And Broadway Bound has it as well, as one of the several companies here devoted to furthering careers of those who will comprise our future musical theatre.
13 runs through December 18, 2011 at ACT Theatre, 7th and Union in downtown Seattle. For more information go to www.broadwaybound.org.