Regional Reviews: Phoenix
The plot follows 12-year-old Jewish New Yorker Evan. His parents are recently divorced and his mother decides to move them to a small town in Indiana. With his bar mitzvah right around the corner, he attempts to befriend as many people in his new school as possible in order to have his party be a success. He quickly becomes friends with his next door neighbor Patrice and the handicapped Archie. But Evan then discovers they are considered to be the "geeks" of the school and that the school jock Brett and the rest of the "in" crowd don't associate with the outcasts. So Evan must decide whether to dump his new close friends in order to have a big turnout for his party or be an outsider and have the party be a bust. While it's obvious what Evan's decision will be, the way the story gets there is interesting and funny, with a few touching moments as well.
Jason Robert Brown's score has plenty of things to like, with nice melodies and inventive lyrics, and a few songs you'll find yourself humming days later. While there isn't any new ground covered in the overly familiar story, the book by Dan Elish and Robert Horn is well written with some very funny dialogue. And yes, teen angst fills the plot, including friends and enemies, crushes and jealousy, gossip, breaking up and making up, and even a bit of romance.
The cast for this production is quite good. Sam Primack is exceptional as Evan. His vocal prowess on his many songs combined with his ability to achieve emotion in his line delivery are superb. Likewise, both Emilio Cress who plays Archie and Olivia Watters who portrays Patrice are excellent. Cress is a gifted comic, and manages through his solo songs just fine. Watters is a wonderful singer and performer and, like Cress, knows how to deliver a punch line.
In the supporting cast, Jacob Herrera is funny as Brett; as the conniving Lucy, Addison Bowman is perfectly bitchy; and Gabby Vatistas is sweet but also sassy as Kendra, the girl both Brett and Archie are enamored with. While all three portray members of the "in" crowd, they also effectively show their characters' insecurities in a touching way.
There is a large ensemble that makes up the rest of the cast, and all of the kids have a high amount of energy, which adds to the fun of the production. Sure, there are a couple of kids who struggle, just a bit, with some of the higher notes and staying in pitch, but those moments are few and short.
Director Johanna Carlisle, who just gave a smashing performance in several key parts in Phoenix Theatre's Mary Poppins, makes her directorial debut with this production. You'd never guess this was her first time directing, as the skill and achievement are exceptional. Choreographer Lynzee 4Man delivers a nice variety of steps and movements throughout, and her husband Mark 4Man, as usual, provides great music direction with some excellent harmonies from the large cast.
While the set design by M'liss Tolman is fairly static, with two large staircases and a raised platform where a couple of scenes play out, she also designed some fun pieces that roll on and off to portray the other locales for the show. Tamara Treat's costumes are colorful and appropriately character specific, and the lighting design by JJ Hansen is highly effective.
13 is ultimately a musical that shows how it is better to be yourself than to try to be someone you're not just so others can like you. Theater Works' Youth Works production is a joyful experience filled with gifted actors and singers, including the exceptional Sam Primack in the lead, and an excellent directorial debut from Johanna Carlisle.
13 runs through February 1st, 2015, at Theater Works at 8355 West Peoria Avenue in Peoria. Tickets can be ordered at theaterworks.org/ or by calling 623 815-7930.
Music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown