Review: Gallery Players' 13: THE MUSICAL Brings Back All Painful Awkwardness of Middle School

By: Dec. 05, 2016

Ahhh, the joys of middle school: three years of bad skin, Mrs. Goldsmith's English class, bullies, popularity contests, and enough deep, emotional scars to fill therapists' offices for years to come. The Gallery Players production of 13: THE MUSICAL, the witty and at times painfully accurate depiction of that delightful time right before high school, is dead on the money.

The musical will performed Dec. 8-18 at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Columbus (1125 College Avenue in Bexley).

Evan Goldman (played by Neil Kalef) has plenty to look forward as he prepares for his 13th birthday. Evan is preparing to celebrate his bar mitzvah with his friends and family in the heart of New York City. Less than a month for the big day, Evan's dreams of having the social event of the season are thrown into the dumpster when his parents get a divorce and his mother sweeps him to the quiet town of Appleton, Ind. Kalef delivers that passion in the show's opening number "Becoming a Man:" "Twelve years old, everything that used to be as good as gold starts to crumble and crack/Pressure mounts, once it was a joke, now it really counts and there's no going back."

On his first day in Appleton, Evan discovers his school is divided into two sets of student. There are the nerdy kids who have befriended him, consisting of his next door neighbor Patrice (Cherish Myers) and Archie (Keegan Sells), and there is the shallow set of popular kids, consisting mainly of Brett (Toby Hattemer), the brutish quarterback of the football team, Kendra (Olivia Horlocker), the popular cheerleader, and Lucy (Ruth Buergenthal), Kendra's scheming best "friend." In order to fill out his guest list for his bar mitzvah, Evan dumps the geeks and pursues acceptance into the top social stratosphere.

A couple of things of things keep the Gallery Players' production from becoming a schmaltzy version of a Brat Pack 80s movie. The first is a strong script by Dan Elish and Robert Horn and an excellent score by Jason Robert Brown. Brown, who also wrote THE LAST FIVE YEARS, gives this talented cast an excellent canvas to work with. One of the highlights of the show is Hattemer and Horlocker's delivery of "Any Minute" when the two discover that a horror movie is perhaps the worst place to have that first romantic moment: "Someone got his skull chopped in half and he's sitting there and maybe he doesn't want me/ Maybe it was something I said or maybe my breath. Why did I eat those pork rinds?"

The second reason the show works is director Ryan Scarlata's decision to cast actors that are close in age to the characters in the script. Casting a 21-year-old female to play a 13-year-old boy often doesn't work. The range of the cast is between seventh and 10th grade but their talent is far beyond that. Myers, who played Jane Banks in a national touring production of MARY POPPINS, and Kalef are perfectly cast. Sells makes a hilarious turn as Archie, the boy with a terminal disease and biting humor. Buergenthal reminds the audience there is nothing more dangerous than a jealous middle school girl, especially in the show's vicious game of telephone "It Can't Be True."

Finally, the show works because it is excellently choreographed by Scarlata and Katie Wagner, also a high school sophomore. The dancing and stage movement keeps the audience engaged in the performance and gave everyone in the 17-member cast a chance to step into the spotlight. The show's closer of "Brand New You" gave a chance for Anna Campise, Avery Bank and Rosie Kalef to step forward and deliver a powerful number while the principal actors slipped into the backdrop.

Gallery Players present 13: THE MUSICAL at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 8 and 15, 8 p.m. Dec. 10 and 17, and 2:30 p.m. Dec. 11 and 18 at the Jewish Community Center (1125 College Avenue in Bexley). Call 614-231-2731 for information.