Monday, October 6, 2008



Music & lyrics by Jason Robert Brown, book by Dan Elish & Robert Horn. Dir. Jeremy Sams. Bernard C. Jacobs Theatre. (CLOSED)

Even critics who liked Jason Robert Brown's new musical about and starring young teens mostly admitted they weren't in the show's target demographic. Many were less charitable, seeing its considerable craft and enthusiasm as cynically employed to sell a made-for-Broadway Middle High School Musical.

amNew York A+
(Matt Windman) Extremely passionate, authentic and a joyride from beginning to end. Not once does it condescend or descend into camp...As complimented by a very cute book and fierce cast, 13 is a fresh, electrifying original musical that will leave you grinning for 90 blissful minutes. We recommend it to anyone who has ever been or will be 13 years old.

Philadelphia Inquirer A
(Howard Shapiro) Every bit as sweet as your first kiss. And maybe even as memorable...You couldn't ask for a more tightly constructed musical, this riff on teenage life in contemporary small-town America as told by a transplanted Manhattan boy. It's savvy and satisfying, with enough style to fully charm adults and speak eloquently to kids; my guess is, it'll be a big holiday ticket.

NJ Star-Ledger A-
(Michael Sommers) Sophisticates may sneer at such uncynical entertainment existing on Broadway, but 13 possesses a nimble, amusing book by Dan Elish and Robert Horn and, even better, a really enjoyable score by Jason Robert Brown. Driven fast by catchy, dynamic rhythms and colorful orchestrations, Brown's 16-song score is light, fresh and always tuneful in nature...Expect nothing fancy from 13—just a sincerely good time.

NY Post B+
(Barbara Hoffman) With a raw, rousing score by Jason Robert Brown sung by a cast of 13- to 17-year-olds, it's Sondheim for MySpacers - the perfect show for those too old for Disney, too young for Spring Awakening, and too impatient to wait for a new block of Wicked tickets...This one does for teens what In the Heights does for Latinos - airbrushes them into some G-rated version of the real thing: a middle school minus zits, profanity and obvious orthodontia.

Talkin' Broadway B+
(Barbara & Scott Siegel) Think of Jason Robert Brown, who wrote the show's music and lyrics, as the auteur of 13 and it becomes a far more personal and emotionally connected piece of work. It becomes, in a word, art...Jason Robert Brown's...tuneful and entertaining score will outlast whatever the fates have in store for this musical on Broadway.

Back Stage B+
(David Sheward) As the judges say on Project Runway, there are moments when I question the taste level of Jason Robert Brown's score and Dan Elish and Robert Horn's book...But the overall effect of their book, and that of Brown's intriguing and endearing score, is an honest portrait of modern kids struggling with issues that are real to them—such as being popular versus being a good friend and judging people by their character, not their cool factor...[a] sweet little gem of a show.

Curtain Up
(Elyse Sommer) B+
If 13 proves to have sturdy enough legs to appeal to a wide enough age range to become a lucky Broadway marque number, it will be mainly because of Brown's fresh and bouncy score...With the music and the performers lifts 13 several notches above this sort of overly familiar teen story, it's too bad that Elish and Horn haven't taken advantage of the Jewish coming of age tie-in to go a bit deeper into the cultural clash.

The Hollywood Reporter B
(Frank Scheck) 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.

Theater News Online B
(Patrick Lee) Although the problematic storytelling prevents 13 from amounting to anything more than a diverting novelty, it's hard to be too disappointed with a musical that outs Jason Robert Brown songs in the mouths of babes. That's a treat for young and old alike.

Theater News Online B
(Bill Stevenson) The talented cast and musicians exceed expectations, bringing Jason Robert Brown's bouncy songs to exuberant life...Although the plot isn't terribly original, Dan Elish and Robert Horn's book offers smart observations on adolescents' cliquish, often cruel behavior...The company is filled with strong voices, though there's a bit too much belting at the end of most songs.

Variety C+
(David Rooney) The target audience for 13 should have no trouble identifying with the characters onstage as they tunefully reflect on friendship, crushes, popularity, acceptance and tongue action. There's not much in this sweet all-adolescent tuner to engage anyone past puberty...but if the story had been told with more wit, complexity or universal insight, there might have been something here for the rest of us.

USA Today C+
(Elysa Gardner) Composer/lyricist Jason Robert Brown and librettists Dan Elish and Robert Horn serve up pop-culture parody peppered with politically incorrect humor and sweetened with some sentimentality...That 13 is seldom either surprising or offensive is a credit to both the limited imagination of its creative team and the winsome freshness of its all-teen cast, directed with obvious affection by Jeremy Sams.

(Michael Kuchwara) Part sermonette, part sitcom, part after-school special, the musically robust but surprisingly thin in the story department as it chronicles the plight of Evan Goldman, transplanted from New York's Upper West Side to rural Indiana after his parents get divorced...If the story meanders, the music does not. Jason Robert Brown...knows how to get theatricality out of pop-rock—not an easy thing to do—and it's in the music where 13 often springs to life.

Daily News C
(Joe Dziemianowicz) What makes this middle school musical original is that the actors actually are teenagers, and so are players in the band. It is fun watching these fresh-faced youths sell the show, but the novelty wears thin soon enough and one wishes what they were pushing was better material...The score by Jason Robert pleasant enough.

Theatermania C
(David Finkle) Without question, the 90-minute intermissionless musical...undeniably looks and sounds lively. Nevertheless, it may also impress some patrons as little more than a bald-faced attempt to cash in on the High School Musical phenomenon.

Village Voice C
(Michael Feingold) An original work that's been carefully crafted to resemble countless other works in its raunchy but moralizing teen genre...These full-evening onstage after-school specials, so tidily plotted and so organized in their rowdiness, lack the two things musical theater thrives on: surprise and fun. Jason Robert Brown's well-wrought songs achieve both occasionally by reaching back to old show-tune styles; Christopher Gattelli's choreography periodically loosens up Jeremy Sams's stiffly efficient direction.

New York Times C-
(Ben Brantley) Featuring a cast of 13 performers, all under 18, and a band drawn from the same age pool, 13 certainly has on tap that natural radioactive energy that makes young teenagers so appealing and so scary. Yet as one who remembers being 13 with vividness and enduring horror, I can't say that these obviously talented kids ever made me shiver, sweat or even smile in honest recollection...13 ultimately feels as pre-processed and formulaic as that money-churning Disney franchise High School Musical.

Newsday C-
(Linda Winer) Raunchier than Bye Bye Birdie, more sanitized than Buffy, this 90-minute moptop package explores two familiar agonies—pre-pubescence and kid-in-a-new school—with smart-enough lyrics and canny-enough pop-rock pastiche and, despite a general lack of meanness, a bizarre glee in making fun of the dying crippled kid.

The Journal News C-
(Jacques Le Sourd) Although Brown is obviously comfortable in the musical theater medium, and though he operates at a high level of musical sophistication, the composer resists writing tunes that really take off melodically. He comes perhaps as close as he ever has here, and yet there still isn't a melody you'll remember five minutes after the final blackout. The same goes, unfortunately, for the book by Dan Elish and Robert Horn.

Wall Street Journal C-
(Terry Teachout) I found 13 to be banal from start to finish. One of Jason Robert Brown's songs, "Tell Her," is a dramatically savvy love duet that caught my ear, but the others are merely slick, while the book, by Dan Elish and Robert Horn, consists of up-to-the-second clich├ęs deployed in predictable ways.

Hartford Courant C-
(Malcolm Johnson) While 13 remains lively throughout, it lacks excitement and compelling interest...Brown's songs, a mix of rock and pop ballads, give the intermissionless production some momentum as it shifts from a vista of toy town to a bland school hallway...Yet for all the enthusiasm of the ensemble, 13 seems to be going nowhere fast.

North Jersey Record D+
(Robert Feldberg) The book, by Dan Elish and Robert Horn, is so chopped-up, careless and obvious it almost seems no more than a bridge between Jason Robert Brown's songs. Those songs are mostly decent and sometimes witty, but the numbing cumulative effect is of a bunch of talented teenagers singing teenage-type songs while executing teenage dance moves.

Time Out NY D
(Adam Feldman) It is one thing when a show like Wicked, with a broad-based appeal to audiences of all ages, gets a boost from the enthusiasm of its younger fans. But 13 has almost nothing to recommend it beyond niche marketing. In terms of artistic quality, it is on a par with syndicated television schlock like the 1990s sitcom Saved by the Bell, not to mention any number of schematic movies about middle-school social management.

Bloomberg News D-
(John Simon) Some of the 13 performers are actually 13; other may be old enough to know better. But 13 or not, they come across almost as juvenile as the perpetrators of this infantile concoction...Christopher Gattelli's choreography is amusing and Jeremy Sams's staging keeps the show nimbly moving during its 95 minutes without an intermission that might enable spectators to move out with equal speed.

Talkin' Broadway F
(Matthew Murray) Would you prefer your show about pre-teens grow up to be High School Musical or Glory Days? As Jason Robert Brown, Dan Elish, and Robert Horn are proving, you don't have to choose. Their sub-sophomoric new musical 13, which just opened at the Jacobs, possesses all the former's empty-headed style and the latter's free-flowing flop sweat...All this, as performed by what must be one of the least-accomplished collections of actors and musicians ever seen on Broadway, does not add up to theatrical exhilaration.

amNew York A+ 14; Philadelphia Inquirer A 13; NJ Star-Ledger A- 12; NY Post B+ 11; Talkin' Broadway B+ 11; Back Stage B+ 11; Curtain Up B+ 11; The Hollywood Reporter B 10; Theater News Online B 10; Theater News Online B 10; Variety C+ 8; USA Today C+ 8; AP C 7; Daily News C 7; Theatermania C 7; Village Voice C 7; New York Times C- 6; WSJ C- 6; Newsday C- 6; The Journal News C- 6; Hartford Courant C- 6; North Jersey Record D+ 5; Time Out NY D 4; Bloomberg News D- 3; Talkin' Broadway F 1; TOTAL: 208 / 25 = 8.32 (C+)

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