Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast
My first exposure to 13 was through Broadway cast album, knowing that I would be seeing the show. The plot revolves around Evan Goldman, uprooted from Manhattan, just prior to his all important bar mitzvah, and his landing in Appleton, Indiana. At Dan Quayle Junior High he gets caught between an unpopular girl who is his first friend and the popular kids whom he badly wants to come to his bar mitzvah. There is some really unkind behavior between these groups, bordering on bullying.
The show is music driven, and much of the plot is revealed in the songs. Listening only to the songs made the whole thing rather harsher than it turns out to be on stage. Seeing a bunch of really cute young people playing out the story makes it much more tolerable for me, although I still find some of the plot twists rather harsh. In the end it all comes out happily, and the kids have learned some lessons in accepting others.
Kyle Ann Lacertosa directs and music directs her cast magnificently. She is Director of Performing Arts at Cardinal Mooney High School in Sarasota and is the perfect person for this job; directing a cast of school-age kids is very different from directing an adult cast. She gets the best out of each member of her cast of very talented kids. Although singing to prerecorded tracks, the cast never goes sharp, a tribute to Ms. Lacertosa's skills as music director. She is assisted by choreographer Ashley Cronkhite who also totally understands how to get the best from the cast. She has staged the show on industrial platforms, set designed by Ralph Nurmella, which prove to be very effective. Costume design by Georgina Willmott owes a lot to each cast member's personal wardrobe, but it all works for the show. Lighting design by Patrick Bedell is effective. Kiwanis Theater is not kind to voices and even though all these kids are terrific singers, I wished that Tom Sell had found a way to mic the show, as much is lost when only one character is singing, especially at the lower end of their ranges. When they sing higher or multiple characters are singing, things improve.
13 is expertly performed. I think it will appeal strongly to kids and their parents. Older audiences may join me in finding parts of it a little off putting, the kid's antics a touch smarmy.
It is astonishing to read the credits this cast has amassed all over the area on community theater and school stages. It shows in the utter confidence they bring to their roles. Every single member of this cast is a good physical match for their character. Joshua Devine as Evan Goldman is a major talent. At 13 he commands a stage, and he is a solid singer and an excellent dancer. I would like to push the clock ahead and see him age 17 or so, to see how he might fare in state and national competitions for high school performers, like the "Jimmys," for James Nederlander. Belle Babcock as Patrice, already a seasoned performer on local stages, shows the self confidence that drives her character.
Stevie Romero has the perfect physicality to play Brett, very handsome, and plays the complete lack of confidence that is exactly right for the character. Ryan Modjeski, another seasoned veteran, is perfect as Archie, Patrice's best friend, facing a life threatening disease. He is so far beyond adorable that I can't put it into words, especially when he dresses up for a date with his dream girl, Kendra, winsomely played by Makenna Hermann. She is also the object of Brett's desire. Villainous Lucy is played by Audrey Lipton. Audrey often takes a back seat to her younger sister Eliza, but here she shows that the talent in the family is evenly distributed.
Elijah Zurek and Maverick Wolf almost manage to steal the whole show as Malcolm and Eddie, Brett's two sidekicks. McKenna Gunn as Molly, Skylar Dennis as Charlotte, Emily Mollin as Riley and Maddie Cashen as Sidney round out the large cast, the largest I've ever seen in Manatee Performing Arts Center's smaller venue.
Manatee Players presents 13 at Manatee Center for the Performing Arts through January 29, 2017, at 502 3rd Ave W., Bradenton; 941-748-0111, manateeplayers.com.
Directed and Music directed by Kyle Ann Lacertosa