by Andrew Juhl
Cedar Rapids - At several points in the evening I thought, “Wow, that’s a bit salacious to be coming out the mouth of a 12-year-old.” But, in truth, no—it wasn’t. It was just jarring to hear tweens talk the way you know they probably talk when there aren’t any adults around. That true-to-life dialogue and interaction (at the heart of obviously contrived plot mechanics requisite in every musical) make 13 enjoyable and identifiable to a wide range of audience members. Also helping: it’s a truly funny story.
The musical concerns a boy, Evan Goldman, who has a perfect and popular 12-year-old existence in New York City… until his parents get divorced and he is forced to move to a small town in rural Indiana. Now the new kid in town, about to turn 13 and celebrate his Bar Mitzvah, all he wants is to be a part of the popular clique again, no matter what it takes to do so. What follows is a funny, fantastical, familiar and fully ineffable evening of musical comedy.
Bentlee Birchansky handles himself admirably as the lead ‘Evan Goldman.’ (I want to give him special props for totally nailing his (albeit small section of the) haphtarah.) And young actress Kennedy Wilson positively shines as his new best friend and obvious will-be love interest, ‘Patrice.’ Wilson’s voice is powerful yet quaint, blending shyness and probity in perfect amounts for the role.
Harry Daubitz, as jerk-jock ‘Brett’ turns in a good performance, hitting the laugh button and the douche button at the just right times. You never really like him, but you also never really dislike him until the point where the musical expressly wants you to; it’s an estimable subtlety that Daubitz brings, allowing the audience to resolve, along with Evan Goldman, just how pointless this meathead’s approval really is.
Perhaps my favorite performances of the evening, however, came from supporting actors Connor Schulz (‘Archie’) and Nikki Stewart (‘Lucy’). Schulz is positively ebullient as a lovelorn teen suffering from muscular dystrophy; this kid really knows how to work a punchline. Though at times perhaps a little too hammy, Schulz’s character is, to be fair, the one character that can get away with it. And Stewart… wow. Just… wow. ‘Lucy’ is a devious, bitchy little slut, and Stewart plays her to a tee; you can just tell Ms. Stewart is having a great time playing bad, and a similar “Ain’t this fun!?” vibe effuses throughout the cast whenever she’s onstage. Additionally, her back-and-forths with best frenemy ‘Kendra’ (actress Rachel Wirth) were clippy and tight; it was an absolute treat whenever the two interacted.
Additionally, I need to recognize the hilarious contributions of Cole Cooper and Brennan Urbi as the comic duo of “Malcom & Eddie.” These two little tramps were fabulously funny, their movements and hormone-centric harmonies elicited ear-to-ear smiles from this reviewer whenever they were onstage.
Director Casey Prince has pulled together a remarkable show, helped in no small part by the simple, effective choreography of Lovar Davis Kidd. This being TCR, the set design was no-less-than-expected: complex though unobtrusive, detailed though inconspicuous, the maximum effect from a minimalist assembly. And pulling everything together is delectably precise musical accompaniment from the pit, directed by Ryan Deignan.
The one distraction of the evening was several mic cut-outs, crackles, and pops. I rail on these “mistakes” whenever I see them in a production because they always remove me from the show. There were some crackles and pops so loud on opening night that they made the singers onstage noticeably flinch—that’s simply unfortunate and should be addressed as soon as possible.
Overall, however, this is an amazing show. TCR continues its reputation of excellent productions with incredible casts. Please, go and support these young actors and actresses. They’ve definitely worked hard to earn your patronage.