Teen performers offer middle school musical, ‘13’
April 5, 2011
By Warren Kagarise
Some milestones trigger stomach-churning dread.
Turning 40 comes to mind, but turning, say, 18 or 21 does not.
The latest musical from the KIDSTAGE program at Village Theatre stares down another fraught numeral: 13, the year acne and angst transform cherubic children into temperamental teenagers.
The musical “13” offers a little more edge and sass than “High School Musical” and other shows geared for teenage performers. The show premieres at the rebuilt First Stage Theatre on April 7.
“Kids love the show” and the material, director and KIDSTAGE Programs Manager Suzie Bixler said.
Divorce upends life for Evan, a 12-year-old Manhattanite.
In the post-divorce order, after mom and dad hit Splitsville, the preteen is transplanted from the Big Apple to the heartland, a fictional burg called Appleton, Ind.
The lone Jew among the gentiles is determined to put on a bar mitzvah to remember. The problem is, Evan needs to crack the coolest clique in school — even if filling out the guest list means casting off some genuine friendships in the process.
“It’s their age group, so the characters, they can really relate to,” Bixler said. “It allows them the opportunity to play kids their own age and be in situations that are similar to what they’re going through.”
Choreographer Casey Craig, a performer in the ongoing original musical “Iron Curtain” on the Village Theatre Mainstage, said “13” reflects the challenges teenagers face in middle school hallways.
“Times are so different,” he said. “I did not talk about these things they talk about. It is shocking the amount of things that have changed over a very short period of time.”
Issaquah High School freshman Matt Sleeth, 15, is Evan, the charismatic-but-uncertain protagonist. The seasoned KIDSTAGE performer — past credits include “Willy Wonka Jr.” and “All Shook Up” — said the angsty comedy mirrors real-life experiences.
“I went through the whole popularity crisis, because I had friends who were popular and friends who were not popular, and I got along with them equally,” he said. “What am I supposed to do? They hate each other.”
Pacific Cascade Middle School student Katie Griffith, 13, is next-door neighbor Patrice, the on-again, off-again confidante to Evan.
“Patrice, she’s stereotyped as the geek in the story, but I like to think of her as this very quirky, independent person,” she said.
The musical is popular among school drama programs and regional theaters. The local iteration features a 17-member ensemble cast. (Other cast members hail from Bellevue, Kirkland, Renton, Sammamish, Seattle and Snoqualmie.)
The set centerpiece for the middle school musical is a Brobdingnagian notebook featuring super-sized scribblings.
“‘13’ is such a great representation of how caught up everybody is,” Katie said. “You never really realize it until you’re in a show like this.”
Like Sleeth, the adolescent actress boasts a long résumé in musical theater.
In 2008, Katie starred as the title character in “Annie” sequel “Annie Warbucks” for Showtunes! Theatre Co. Issaquah resident Martin Charnin — Tony Award-winning mastermind behind both “Annie” musicals — directed the production.
Following a successful Los Angeles run, “13” opened on Broadway in September 2008. Composer Jason Robert Brown received a Drama Desk Award nomination for the show.
In Issaquah, the musical carries another distinction: “13” is the opening show at the rebuilt First Stage Theatre, the traditional home for KIDSTAGE productions.
Though the musical uses some innuendo and PG-13 language, “13” plumbs middle school trials — friendship, peer pressure and self-confidence — in a manner recognizable to any post-adolescent audience member.
“The idea of the show is them growing up, and turning from something that they would say kiddish to adult, but clearly, they’re still in middle school,” Craig said.
If you go
Village Theatre — First Stage Theatre
120 Front St. N.
Show times vary
$14 – $16
392-2202 or www.villagetheatre.org
Learn more about the process to rebuild the historic First Stage Theatre.
Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.