Saturday, February 20, 2010

13, Fairmount Performing Arts Conservatory (FPAC)

Mention eighth grade to most people and they will usually grimace and involuntarily shiver, remembering a time of incredible uncertainty, discovery, awkwardness and a lot of booger jokes. But in the musical 13, now at the Fairmount Performing Arts Conservatory, this period of time is given an upbeat gloss thanks to an irresistible cast of young performers.

Under the spirited direction of Sean Szaller and aided by Bebe Weinberg Katz’s exuberant choreography, the production often attains an aura of professionalism. Along the way, many of the expected traumas facing kids that age—dating tragedies, hurtful gossip, shifting allegiances—are dealt with in one form or another.

But there are a few thorns among the roses, particularly in the book by Dan Elish and Robert Horn. When 12-year-old Evan moves from the hip environs of New York City to fly-over hell in Appleton, Indiana, after his parents’ divorce, he’s distressed about who will attend his bar mitzvah. He quickly bonds with sweet Patrice, but then tears up her invitation when he finds out that others, including school stud Brett, don’t like her.

Even granting the quicksilver nature of relationships in middle school, none of these attractions or conflicts is given enough explanation to make them resonate completely. The words in the songs (music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown) try to spackle the holes, but it’s a futile effort.

That said, Brown has a facility for writing some catchy tunes, and the FPAC cast delivers them with style. As Evan, Miles Sternfeld has an easy command of the stage, blending a touch of Woody Allen dorkitude with youthful resolve . And Dani Apple is ideal as the super nice Patrice, crafting her songs with an actor’s touch and, at time, belting with gusto.

The comic relief is Archie (Jordan Brown, in a nicely calibrated performance), a boy with a degenerative muscle disease who apparently has a short life span. Laughing yet? Well, you do, especially in the song “Terminal Illness” when Evan and Archie plan to use Archie’s disability to their advantage: “No one says no to a boy with a terminal illness…nothing’s too hard or a quest unendurable/As long as you’re sure you’re completely incurable.”

Blonde Kendra and dark-haired Lucy are this show’s Betty and Veronica, and Jessie Gill and Elle Vertes handle their respective roles of ditz and schemer with panache. And Dan Hoy is every bit the doltish jock as Brett.

But one of the standout moments in this production is when Malcolm (Aric Floyd) and Eddie (Daniel Sovich) indulge in a bit of soulful backup singing and dancing as their main guy Brett tries to cozy up to Kendra. Floyd and Sovich’s moves are loose, limber and downright hilarious. Later, they are also joined by Sam Welch and Kyle Cohen in the show-stopping “Bad Bad News.” Somebody’s got to put these bits on You Tube so they can go viral.

In sum, 13 is a flawed piece of material that is often spun into gold by the young talent at FPAC. Almost makes you want to go back to eighth grade and try it all again.

On second thought, ahh, no.


Through February 28, produced by the

Fairmount Performing Arts Conservatory, at the

Mayfield Village Civic Center, 6622 Wilson Mills Road,

Mayfield Village, 440-338-3171

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