“A grown up story about being grown up.”
A young Jewish boy, Evan Goldman (Andrew McKinnon), twelve turning thirteen, greets us with the news of his bar mitzvah. The excitement is shortly ruined by the news that his family has split and he must move from New York, his school and his friends, with his mother, to a country town in Indiana.
The song and dance routines come thick and fast, with what seems like a hundred teens, crushing the stage with enthusiasm and excitement, zest and confidence. The story moves us through heartbreak, abandonment, dislodgement, popularity, hopelessness, rejection and disappointment. All in days work for a thirteen year old in 2011.
With powerful vocal performances from Lucy (Tahlia Tahbone) and best friend ‘hottie’ Kendra (Brianna Bishop), the thirty one strong cast of teenagers create a joyful dynamic and at times, completely engaging story. The only issue that stood out in this production was the inability to hear a large amount of the dialogue from the young performers, due to the volume of the live band behind stage, and the low pitched parts of the vocal arrangements.
A highlight of this production came with the musical number entitled ‘Terminal Illness’ performed by Evan and Archie (Frank Dixon) ‘The Geek’, a thirteen-year-old boy with a degenerative muscular disease. The musical number broke out an arthritically hilarious black comedy routine, with the lyrics, ‘No one says no to a boy with a terminal illness, Take it from me, it’s a sure guarantee of success.’ Accompanied by a slightly 'Monty Pythonesque' soft show shuffle riff, despite it’s comic potential feeling under-played, directorially and chorographical, held us accountable to the light side of a dark situation, in a way only teenagers can innocently express.
Brenton Van Vliet’s lighting design was reminiscent of a blue light disco, fashionable neon army camouflage dappling the walls and flooring spontaneously, and stylistically indicative of a Dan Flavin installation, working well to set the theme of youth, vitality and contemporary era. The set design by David Bramble was white, versatile, and featured a detachable rostra style seating bank that could be wheeled in to form a stadium bench, creating interesting levels, and block the archway to form a solid wall in the centre of the set, where once and archway stood.
13 – A New Musical has left personal wonderment of the complexity and intensity of what it means to be thirteen in contemporary Australian society. The production, set in Indiana in the United States with the lead theme being centered around a Jewish boy’s coming-of-age to manhood, does knead out a questioning of whether the themes are universal or specific to the culture? Both are equally as interesting. Being thirteen, in my day, did not feature such sexually provocative monsters as ‘The Tongue’, or maybe I have just uncovered what a dag I really am. Who knows…all I can say however is, hanging out with these thirty-one thirteen year olds, on Saturday night, was definitely entertaining and a lot of fun.
Stage Masters presents
13 – A New Musical
music and lyrics Jason Robert Brown | book Dan Elish and Robert Horn
Directed by Jess Benney and David Venn
Venue: Randall Theatre, St Martin’s Youth Theatre, St Martin's Lane, Toorak
Dates: 14 – 18 December, 2011
Bookings: Ticketmaster.com.au | 136 100