Regional Reviews: Phoenix
The plot follows Evan Goldman, a 12-year-old Jewish boy who lives in New York City until his parents get divorced and his mother decides to move them to a small town in Indiana. Evan attempts to befriend as many people in his new school as possible, as his bar mitzvah is right around the corner and he wants it to be a success. He quickly becomes friends with his next-door neighbor Patrice and the handicapped Archie. But Evan finds himself in a major dilemma when he learns that his new friends are called the "geeks" of the school and that the school jock Brett and the rest of the "in" crowd don't associate with the outcasts. Evan has to decide whether to dump his new friends in order to have all of the kids come to his party or be branded an outsider and have the party be a failure. While it's fairly obvious what Evan's decision will be, with Jason Robert Brown's score, which has humorous lyrics and catchy hooks, and a familiar yet fun story by Dan Elish and Robert Horn, the way the musical gets to its ending is interesting, touching and not exactly what you'd think.
The cast in this production is excellent. Director Kenny Grossman has proven time and again that he knows how to work with young actors to ensure they not only get across the comedy of a show but the emotion as well, and each member of this cast delivers. Owen Donsker is superb as Evan. He has a firm stage presence and good comic timing yet is also able to make you feel for him through his emotional line delivery. His singing ability is rich and strong. It's an all-around excellent performance. Zoie Moller and Christopher Poulios are equally good as Patrice and Archie. Moller is tender and soft as the fragile Patrice and Poulios is a natural comic who gets plenty of laughs as the self-deprecating, handicapped Archie. Both have very good singing voices, with Moller getting the chance to show her vocal prowess in a few soaring solos.
Kendall Hook is funny as the somewhat clueless Brett, Sophie Jurkovich is sweet as Kendra, the girl both Brett and Archie have fallen for, and Alexis Archer is appropriately cunning as the backstabbing Lucy. Even though all three characters are members of the popular group of kids, the succinct book and score still allows us to see the insecurities they all have, which Hook, Archer and Jurkovich do well in portraying. Patrick Mullen and Michael Hook are hilarious, with good vocal abilities, as two of Brett's friends, and the large ensemble deliver energetic performances.
Choreographer Marley DeGroodt has created plenty of fun, fast-paced steps which are well danced by the entire cast, and Adam Bei's music direction derives excellent vocals and harmonies from the large group of young performers and the superb three-piece band. Bobby Sample's set and media designs use a combination of projections and a few set pieces to beautifully and effectively portray the locations in the show, and Josh Hontz's sound ensures that both the dialogue and lyrics are clear and his lighting works well to portray the various times of day while also quickly shifting our focus and attention appropriately. Audrey Wawro's costumes are bright, colorful, and appropriately age and character specific.
The topics brought up in the musical, which range from having to make friends and deal with enemies, jealousies, gossip and romance, are ones that almost everyone experienced during middle school and high school years. 13 does a great job ob portraying the pain and humor of those experiences and the desperate need to fit in, especially for someone who feels like an outsider or has just moved to a new town. It also has the important life lesson that it's better to be yourself than to try to be someone you're not just so others will like you, which is something we can all be reminded of no matter what age. With direction that expertly balances the humor and emotion in the plot and an excellent cast, Spotlight Youth Theatre's production of this popular youth musical is a joyful, funny and moving experience.
13, through March 10, 2019, at Spotlight Youth Theatre, 10620 N 43rd Avenue, Glendale AZ. Tickets and information can be found at www.spotlightyouththeatre.org or by calling 602.843.8318
Director: Kenny Grossman