“Okay, here’s the story,” 12-year-old Evan (Graham Phillips) announces at the beginning of 13. Exiled from Manhattan to Indiana, “the lamest place in the world,” Evan must navigate the halls of Dan Quayle Junior High (school mascot: the Quails) while trying to entice the school’s cool goys and gals to attend his bar mitzvah. Cast entirely with young teens and tweens, who give fresh-scrubbed if uneven performances (the all-teen band behind them, on the other hand, rock with the tightness of a group twice their age), 13 is clearly aimed straight at the High School Musical crowd, although I worry that Jason Robert Brown’s songs are a little too, well, good to compete with Disney. Meter shifts? Complicated rhyme patterns? Would the Jonas Brothers try that baloney?
For adults, the pleasures in the show mostly come from seeing musical-theater tropes scaled down to kid size: pint-size belters, junior comic relief, and dance numbers that include skateboards. Mini-diva Elizabeth Egan Gillies, who as bad girl Lucy displays terrifying hauteur, is the cast member most likely to go on to Disney Channel fame. But keep your eye on Allie Trimm, whose warm, winning performance as the geeky next-door neighbor, Patrice, suggests a real career on the stage. And boy, can she sing, especially in her second-act duet with Phillips, in which they confess their love at last—in age-appropriate language: “Tell her that studying together / Was so nice you prayed it wouldn’t end.”
Another character declares the song “a little gay,” which made us wonder: Even though one of the show’s biggest laughs comes from an accidental guy-on-guy kiss, aren’t there any gay kids in Appleton, Indiana? At all-singing, all-dancing Dan Quayle Junior High, there should be at least one budding show queen.