Theater Reviews

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Broadway has plenty of shows for adults and several (nearly all of them courtesy of Disney) for young kids. But until now the tween market has largely been neglected, despite the mega-success of such musical acts as Hannah Montana and the Jonas Brothers.

The musical "13" is an attempt to rectify that situation, and because the stage version of "High School Musical" is taking its sweet time getting here, "13" seems to have the market to itself.

The show, featuring a score by Tony winner Jason Robert Brown ("Parade"), also has an ingenious marketing hook in the fact that its entire cast and onstage band are teenagers.

The book, co-written by Robert Horn and veteran children's author Dan Elish, revolves around the travails of 13-year-old Evan (Graham Phillips), who much to his dismay moves with his recently divorced mother from Manhattan to Appleton, Ind., a town that he woefully describes as "where UFOs go to refuel."

Desperate to fit in with the popular clique and have a decent turn-out for his bar mitzvah, Evan tries to ingratiate himself with such figures as the school jock (Eric M. Nelson), the head cheerleader (Delaney Moro) and the mean girl (Elizabeth Egan Gillies). In the process, he betrays the only kids who have actually welcomed him: the brainy Patrice (Allie Trimm) and the physically impaired, terminally ill Archie (Aaron Simon Gross).

Needless to say, it all works out in the end, with Evan learning handy lessons about what it means to grow up and face life as it is.

While not exactly sophisticated enough to stand as adult entertainment, "13" works more than well enough on its own terms and should well please its target audience. Brown's pop-rock score is bouncy and fun, and is performed in exuberant fashion by the youthful cast. Indeed, the ensemble is highly impressive, putting over the material with precocious professionalism and -- presumably thanks to the steady hand of director Jeremy Sams -- avoiding the show-offy, "look at me" syndrome so endemic to younger performers.

Only at the evening's end, during the musical number performed at the curtain call, do they seem to be showing off. But there's no denying that by then they've earned the right.

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