High School Musical–Not!

By Darcie J. Flansburg

Posted December 16, 2010 in Arts & Culture

13 is the kind of musical that young triple-threat thespians would die to be in. It has everything from topical comedy to beautiful music, engaging characters to touching moments. Yet, dubbed as “A Grown-Up Musical About Growing Up,” the show caters to adult audiences as well. I had the pleasure of seeing the world premiere production of 13 at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles in 2007. I left that show humming the music for days after. On top of the catchy Jason Robert Brown lyrics, the show touches on teen angst without the cheesiness of High School Musical or having to delve into harsh teen realities like Spring Awakening.

The story follows Evan Goldman in his move from New York to Appleton, Indiana, a few months before his bar mitzvah. In his new location, Evan decides that he is going to make friends with the popular kids in order to make sure his bar mitzvah is a hit, thus ensuring a smooth passage into manhood.

His journey teaches him a few things about humanity, what it means to be a friend and what is really important in life, all with some song, dance and hilarious teen encounters.

Having had such a great experience with the musical in the past, I was sure that no other production could compare. But Act One Theatre Arts’ production of 13 was an excellent representation of this honest and heartwarming show. Jessica Sharples’ portrayal of the sweet and genuine Patrice was just the tip of the iceberg of this amazing cast. Sharples hit every note and used every moment on stage. Patrice has some of the most touching, beautiful songs in the show—“The Lamest Place in The World” and “What It Means to be a Friend”—and Sharples rocked ’em. The Dec. 12 crowd was very supportive of the show, but Sharples’ numbers always seemed to get some extra woots.

James Bowen played the crippled and clever Archie. Bowen had the perfect personae for the weak yet savvy “freak.” Archie is probably one of the most difficult characters to perform, not only because of the arm braces, but also due to his smart-aleck, suave attitude coupled with girlish screams and a winning voice. Bowen accomplished all of this and then some.

Max D’Ambra was a convincing Evan. He was invested in each action, felt the emotion, and sang with verve and charm.

Kyle Hensley as Eddie and Marshall Briggs as Malcolm were hilarious together; the duo played off each other well. Anna Duchi was convincingly evil and selfish as Lucy.

And Ashley Zavala, Chloe Whalen, and Brooke Henton were vocally powerful as Charlotte, Cassie and Molly. One of my favorite number’s is “It Can’t Be True,” an update to “The Telephone Hour” from Bye Bye Birdie. Well, Zavala, Whalen, Henton and Duchi brought it home with maturity and grace, while still being catty and childish. Job well done.

But the entire cast was incredible. One would think these kids were paid professionals.

Though I was happy that the company kept the show to two hours, I was sad to see some of my favorite numbers cut. But really, they are all great numbers. And Director/Musical Director Sharon Duchi did an excellent job with the cuts.

The choreography was weak at times; it seemed almost too easy for the talented cast. And it was also unfortunate that there could not also be a live teen band (as it is often done) instead of the canned music.

I also would have liked to have seen the bios for all of these young stars in the program.

But these are minor discrepancies that were easily made up for with great lyrics, great characters, great vocals and a very professional overall performance.

Act 1 Theater Arts’ 13, Act 1 Community Theater, 26111 Ynez Road Suite B-9, Temecula, (951) 296-0043; www.act1theaterarts.com. Fri-Sun, Dec. 17-19 (2PM and 7PM shows). Tickets $15 ($3 discount with non-perishable food donation)


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