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Why is the world feeling suddenly stranger?
Why are my friends acting totally weird?
Why do I feel like my life is in danger?
Why do I feel like my brain disappeared?
— Lyric from 13.

Tyler Mann, Ricky Ashley, and Sara Niemietz in 13
Tyler Mann, Ricky Ashley, and Sara Niemietz in 13
(Photo: Craig Schwartz)
13, a world premiere musical at the Mark Taper forum, with music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown, is a giddy tribute to Brown's own nostalgia about an age where being popular and fitting in is pretty much essential to one's own well being and happiness. If you're not a cool kid you're resigned to, in our protagonist Evan's own words, "a very long year living in the Land of the Geeks."

The story begins with our hero, Evan (as aptly described in his credits, veteran of the stage Ricky Ashley) being transplanted to Indiana from New York City when his parents divorce. With his Bar Mitzvah just around the corner, Evan realizes that he's at a fork in the road. If he can get the "cool kids" to attend, his status will be cemented for the rest of the year. Of course, this means excluding his best friend and fellow nerd Patrice (Sara Niemietz), who has been there for him through thick and thin. Evan must grapple with becoming a man, while simultaneously deciding how to balance his need to "fit in" with staying true to himself.

The staging and choreography are perfect for the Taper's three quarter round auditorium. The teens bounce off the floor with acrobatics and energy that only real thirteen year olds can capture, filling the room with vitality and charisma as they also run into the audience. Even the oldest members of the audience were all smiles during scenes which included audience interaction. The company never displays any nerves as they run up and down the aisles, a testament to the fine direction, and to the pure professionalism of these young actors.

The costuming fits the show to a tee, with the exception of Lucy who looks as if she should be in the nerd squad rather than the popular crowd. It was a bit of head scratcher to determine why she looked so frumpy in a plaid jumper when she's vying for the most popular status with head cheerleader Kendra. Of all the plots, hers is the least fleshed out. We understand why she's jealous (she has apparently helped Kendra attain her status—her cheerleader moves, etc.) but we don't quite understand why Lucy would perform all of these selfless acts, when she wants the limelight just as badly as her friend.

The show also features a teenage band which is positioned on a raised platform in the background. Band members are cleverly costumed to mirror the actions going on in the musical. This tongue in cheek sense of humor, also displayed in the overall direction, helps to avoid the saccharine quality that I worried it would hit during the opening number.

Luckily, Ashley's Evan achieves earnestness with ease and miraculously avoids becoming unlikable even as he abandons his friends for the cool kids. We completely understand all of his actions and are with him throughout. The casting could not have been better. This performance and the pitch perfect delivery of dry remarks like "You don't get any points for being different at Dan Quayle Junior High" are an indication Ashley will only grow as an actor and professional.

Rounding out the core trio of the show, Sara Niemietz as Patrice and Tyler Mann as Archie are also perfect. Without their stellar singing and stage presence 13 could have fallen flat. Niemietz and Ashley balance one another. The way they blend their voices demonstrates a proficiency often absent from actors so young. Niemietz shines during her solo, and takes impressive command of the stage with only a notebook sharing the spotlight.

Emma Degerstedt should also be commended for making "Ms. Popular" Kendra seem, for lack of a better word, "nice" — a tough feat given the jealousy she inspires in everyone around her. Caitlin Baunoch as Lucy is another performer with powerful pipes and charisma to boot. The only lead who had a little trouble finding his stage legs seemed to be J.D. Phillips. Though talented, his attempts at being "the cool kid" came off as just that and it's hard to believe that he's the one the rest of the kids want to emulate. The ensemble as a whole is remarkably strong, professionals all, lighting up the stage during group numbers.

As more teen angst genre musicals pop up, one can't help wondering whether there's still room for one more. We've seen the clichéd unpopular boy meets popular girl story enough times to make us gag for an original plot. Happily, 13 manages to both embrace and defy the genre, leaving us smiling and clapping along to the rock/pop beats that Robert Brown provides.

Music and Lyrics: Jason Robert Brown
Book By: Dan Elish
Director: Todd Graff
Choreography By: Michele Lynch
Music Director: David O
Band Director: Craig Wolynez
Cast: Ricky Ashley, Caitlin Baunoch, Janae Burrows, Emma Degerstedt, Tnashe Kachingwe, Tyler Mann, Sara Niemietz, Ryan Ogburn, J.D. Phillips, Ellington Ratliff, Chloe Smith, Christian Vandal, Seth Zibalese
The Band: Molly Bernstein, Chris Raymond, Charlie Rosen, Nehemiah Williams, David O Set Design: David Gallo
Costume Design: Candice Cain
Lighting Design: Mike Baldassari
Sound Design: Duncan Robert Edwards
Stage Managers: James T. McDermott and Elizabeth Atkinson
Running Time: 117 minutes, no intermission
From December 22, 2006 — February 18, 2007
Tues. through Sat. at 8 p.m.; Sun. at 7:30 p.m.; Sat. and Sun. matinees at 2:30 p.m.; No performances Mondays.
Mark Taper Forum at 135 N. Grand Ave. in Los Angeles at the Music Center,, (213) 628-2772..
Tickets: $55-$65. Hot Tix: $20 each can be purchased in advance or, subject to availability, on the day of performance at the box office (cash or American Express only).
Tickets available through the Center Theatre Group box office at the Music Center, on-line at
Reviewed by Ariana Mufson on 1/9/07.

Musical Numbers
  • Thirteen! - Evan and Company
  • All the Cool Kids - Brett, Malcolm, Eddie and Company
  • Get Me What I Need - Archie and Kendra
  • What It Means To Be A Friend - Patrice
  • Getting Ready - Archie, Evan, Brett, Kendra, Lucy, and Company
  • The Bloodmaster - Cassie, Molly, Charlotee, Simon, Richie and Company
  • Being A Geek - Evan, Rabbi, and Boys
  • Angry Boy - Brett, Malcolm, Kendra, Lucy and Company
  • Tell Her - Evan and Patrice
  • It Can't Be True - Lucy and Company
  • Getting Over It - Evan
  • My Name is Archie - Archie
  • Brand New You - Kendra, Patrice and Company
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