Friday, November 07, 2008

Review of “13”, the Broadway Musical

By Tehilah Eisenstadt

Storah On The Road

As the Program Director for Raising The Bar I get to do lots of fun things. As someone who works with Bar and Bat Mitzvah age tweens and their families, people often think of me when anything Bar or Bat Mitzvah related comes up. Thankfully, last week this situation scored me free tickets to see “13” the new musical on Broadway. It’s always nice to give back, so in order to repay the cosmos I am posting a free review! I am also excited to announce that Tribeca Hebrew—the location of our Raising The Bar, the institutional version (2.0?)—will be bringing their families to see “13”, and Raising The Bar will be offering a contextualizing Storah-intro to see them on their way! Now…back to our irregularly scheduled “13” review:

I did not have high expectations for "13". A friend and fellow educator had a ticket and so I thought I would give it a try even after reading reviews like this one:

... "13" treats Evan's pursuit of Popularity (and when you're 13, the word carries a capital P) in broad generic terms spiced with topical references, as if enacting an ages-old ritual dressed up in Abercrombie & Fitch and accessorized with cellphones. The characters are as eternal as types in commedia dell'arte, and the plot as set as that of a Passion play by way of young adult fiction.

-"Stranger in Strange Land: The Acne Years," NEW YORK TIMES, OCTOBER 2008

While the review was not such a positive one, after seeing the show, I agree with it - except that I think these elements are part of what makes "13" so good. While the characters are archetypes the emotions they evoke are genuine and give space for audience members of all ages to reminisce on the teens in their lives (currently or in our childhood pasts) that these individuals evoke. The music and singing were pretty outstanding. I agree with the NY Post reviewer who said:

I can't remember the last Broadway musical with a big Torah number... With a raw, rousing score by Jason Robert Brown sung by a cast of 13- to 17-year-olds, it's Sondheim for MySpacers…

- "Musical Mazal Tov for Heartland Teens," NEW YORK POST, OCTOBER 2008

Believe it or not I even agree with the "Sondheim for MySpacers" assessment (the songs are really catchy!). I think "13" relates to becoming Bar Mitzvah in a pretty realistic way for the majority of kids heading towards their Bar/Bat Mitzvah year. Evan's Bar Mitzvah Torah chanting takes one brief, but beautiful moment (on the Broadway stage!). However, Evan's growth process, through peer learning and life experiences lead him to become a better human, and in my mind, if contextualized – a better Jew. As a show "13" is great, the music, the humor and the passion of the teen actors and musicians are all wonderful. As a learning tool, 13 isn't "there" on its own, nor does it need to be. Hopefully the show itself will open up meaningful conversations between tweens, teens and their peers. As a show with no character or positive role-model older than 13 I believe it comes to the rest of us to make ample room for meaning in discussions that can proceed or follow. It will also be interesting to follow how this particular theater piece reaches an unusual Broadway audience of tweens and teens by using new media like facebook, broadwayspace, myspace and twitter.

Oh, and since Broadway has no rating system that I know of, I have rated the show myself: PG-13 (please refer to image above).

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