Have you seen that Jason Robert Brown musical where the smart Jewish guy falls for the neurotic Irish Catholic girl? Despite being the premise of three of his shows to my mind, in this case the lovers are less than thirteen years old. Brown’s clearly self-styled protagonist is catapulted from The Big Apple to Appleton, Indiana, where he is forced to find new friends and carve a niche for himself before his life-defining Bar Mitzvah party. Staffordshire Gatehouse Youth Theatre’s young cast give an energetic and vocally-accomplished rendition of a needlessly complex score, providing a polished and thoroughly enjoyable hour-and-a-bit to leave you beaming for the rest of the day.
The plot may be reminiscent of other, lesser high-school musicals, but Dan Elish’s book and the plucky cast capture the cutting and inappropriate humour of real pre-teens; difficult subjects are approached with the blissful ignorance of youth, with the character Archie, who suffers from a degenerative terminal illness, providing much of the you-can’t-say-that humour. Sex, or rather the vague discovery thereof, forms a strong undercurrent to the show, kept relatively clean by the inexperience of the characters (‘What comes after ‘tongue’?’).
The romantic leads were superbly cast and performed with sophistication beyond their years. The young man as Evan had a staggering sense of comic timing and a great musical-theatre tenor voice as clear as a bell. Opposite him in the role of Patrice shone a young woman whose mixed-yet-vibrant vocal tone sounded like Sherie Renee-Scott of The Last 5 Years fame, as one audience member gushed when we were shuffling out of the auditorium. As such it felt as if she were born to sing Jason Robert Brown. However, 13 is really an ensemble piece and every cast member pitched in with highly individualised characters, with the group giving some excellent company numbers.
The three-sided revolving flats which formed the set were clever and stylish – perfect for the Fringe. As mentioned, the choreography was punchy, ambitious, and never generic. If the last week in Edinburgh is getting you down then 13 is the perfect pick-me-up – high in both energy and quality.