Released: 12th August
Seen: 24th August
In September 2008, the Broadway production of 13: The Musical began its run, a run that would last until January of 2009 after 22 previews and 105 performances. It was a truly unique show as the entire cast and band were made up of teenagers, something that as far as we know has never been done on Broadway before or since. It’s also a bit of a milestone as this was the show that featured the professional debut of eventual pop icon Ariana Grande. In its own way, 13: The Musical is kind of special, an original teen-oriented musical that can be performed with a cast made up entirely of 13-year-olds that isn’t just a junior version of a different show. Naturally, a show with this kind of significance would be a prime target for adaptation… with the thing that made it kind of special being removed.
13: The Musical tells the story of Evan Goldman (Eli Golden), a kid who is just about to turn 13 which is the day he’ll have his Bar Mitzvah where his entire family can see him grow into a man… except, slight problem, his parents are getting a divorce because his father, Joel (Peter Hermann) cheated on his mother, Jessica (Debra Messing) and so his mother has decided to take Evan out of New York and back to Indiana where Jessica and Evan can live with Jessica’s mother, Ruth (Rhea Perlman). This of course changes all of Evan’s plans as he now has to try and have a Bar Mitzvah in a brand new town where he doesn’t know anyone so naturally, he spends as much time as he can trying to become popular so he’ll have a bunch of new friends at his Bar Mitzvah and everything will be OK.
For the most part, 13: The Musical is a simple and enjoyable time with a very talented cast of young people. It’s not going for anything truly deep here, this isn’t some deep exploration of the human condition, it’s a musical about being a kid who is just about to hit puberty and all the weird feelings that go along with that. First kisses, sneaking into an R-rated movie, making new friends in a new town, things that aren’t exactly the biggest deal… unless you’re a 13-year-old and then they’re the most important things you’ve ever had to deal with in your life. While it would be nice if the film would dive under the surface, it’s a show made to be performed by kids so it’s fine just being on the surface.
It also helps that all the kids who make up the bulk of the cast are just wildly talented, delivering some great high-energy musical numbers and some genuinely great performances. Normally a film full of kid actors would be hell, kid actors are rarely great due to them being kids who have next to no experience but all of these kids are actually genuinely good. Their songs are very well performed, they have good comic timing and can make the material work. These are kids who all seem to have a good chance of really turning into something huge at some point, particularly Eli Golden who basically carries the film and makes most of it work… most of.
The problem 13: The Musical has that takes it out of the realm of something special and into just being kind of generic is the inclusion of the adults. Literally, the first person who gets a close-up shot just of them is noted not-a-child Josh Peck, this addition of the parents as characters who not only have dialogue but sing and even have serious emotional scenes changes what this show is. This is a show that’s special because it’s meant to be performed entirely by 13-year-olds, that’s the entire appeal of the piece and this film just removes that entirely for no reason other than the need to have some names people know of. You probably couldn’t sell this just on the title of the musical alone but maybe if you have a few decent names who are well known among people who binge a lot of TV on Netflix, it might work.
That generic feeling kind of runs throughout 13: The Musical, from the very standard filming to the way the numbers are performed. It never really rises much beyond just OK when it could and should be a vehicle to show off a bunch of talented tweens who can clearly belt out a number and do some incredible dances. It’s certainly not a bad movie, it’s got a certain innocent charm and it’s hard to deny how good some of the musical numbers are (particularly the opening, which has so much promise but then they kind of throw that away) but it’s also not a great movie, it’s just kind of OK.
13: The Musical probably won’t be remembered for that long as an adaptation, maybe Netflix knew they had something kind of average on their hands because there was no real push for this thing but maybe that’s for the best. While it’s a decent enough time, and probably handy to parents of potential theatre kids who might be in this show so they have an idea of what the content is, it never really rises much beyond just kind of fine. It had a chance to be something a little more, but it didn’t take it.