What a bang-up way for the 2007 theatre season to begin!  The world premiere of Jason Robert Brown’s“13” was a superb event indeed for Los Angeles, and the show is a good contender for future glory in those greener theatrical climes on our other coast.  Hopefully, this auspicious beginning will be only the first stop in a upwardly mobile Drowsy Chaperone-y journey for this appealing new work, from its first burst onto the Mark Taper stage right up to Tony Award night in 2008.  

Above everything that deserves praise here, there’s first and foremost the brightly infectious score by Brown, who seems to continuously make the bravest of professional choices for someone in his particular stage of flirtation with great fame and renown: he reinvents his work completely with each new chapter of his career evolution—and hey, that approach did wonders for Johnny Depp, right? 

With a cast and band made up of some of the most talented teenagers you’ll ever see performing on one stage, “13” is the story of Evan (Ricky Ashley), a 13-year-old Jewish kid from New York City—after the traumatic separation of his parents—is transplanted to suburban Appleton, Indiana.  Soon to have his bar mitzvah in this strange new environment with only his mother and the rented rabbi they found online as guaranteed attendees, Evan goes on a woebegone and challenging quest to get the cool kids he barely knows from his classes at Dan Quayle Junior High to show up and hear him read backwards.

Oddly, although Brown’s lyrics are as fresh and crisp and fascinating as his music, Dan Elish’s book for “13” at first seemed a little too Saved by the Bell, only buoyed for the first half hour or so by Brown’s score, Michele Lynch’s striking and whimsically youthful choreography, CTG’s always first class production values, and the incredibly potent and explosive talents of the 13 dazzling kids who energize the show.  But Elish’s characters grow on you as they develop, as the writer craftily, stealthily segues from Ferris Bueller to Lanford Wilson.  Evan wins friends, loses friends, recovers friends, and by the time he gives his heartfelt bar mitzvah speech, there isn’t a dry eye in the house.

Lynch, our town’s best musical director, David O, and director Todd Graff should be lauded for so deftly managing to corral and brilliantly pilot this amazing cast of potential child stars, graciously letting the kids’ talents be the primary focus of their efforts.  Ashley is totally believable and sweetly endearing as Evan, as are Sara Neimietz as the traditional loyal plain girl he should be inviting to the party, Tyler Mann as the disabled neighbor who goes to all lengths of manipulation to get his way, and Emma Degerstedt as the maybe-not-so-bubbleheaded blonde cheerleader whose first tonguing everyone is obsessed on plotting. 

Nope, the cast couldn’t be better chosen or guided, with Evan’s gangly still testosterone-challenged (give them a minute here, folks) posse of four—Ryan Ogburn, Ellington Ratliff, Christian Vandal, and especially the athletically unstoppable Seth Zibalese—offering some of the evening’s most impressive musical moments, and there also must be special mention made of O’s dynamic all-teen band, with the particularly impressive Chris Raymond wailing a knockout guitar solo. 

It’s way early to predict what’s in store for LA theatre in 2007 since this is literally the first opening of the season, but if this bunch of gifted munchkins doesn’t win honors as the ensemble cast of the year by award time a year from now, I’ll eat my presskit.  And that goes double for Jason Robert Brown’s innovative, charming, and most hum-able score.  If the rest of 2007 ends up as exciting as “13,” we’re off to a remarkable start. 

The Mark Taper Forum is located at 135 N. Grand Av. in the LA Music Center; for tickets, call (213) 628-2772.


TRAVIS MICHAEL HOLDER teaches acting and theatre/film history at the New York Film Academy’s west coast campus at Universal Studios. He has been writing about LA theatre since 1987, including 12 years for BackStage, a 23-year tenure as Theatre Editor for Entertainment Today, and currently for ArtsInLA.com. As an actor, he received the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Best Actor Award as Kenneth Halliwell in the west coast premiere of Nasty Little Secrets at Theatre/Theater and he has also been honored with a Drama-Logue Award as Lennie in Of Mice and Men at the Egyptian Arena, four Maddy Awards, a ReviewPlays.com Award, both NAACP and GLAAD Award nominations, and six acting nominations from LA Weekly. Regionally, he won the Inland Theatre League Award as Ken Talley in Fifth of July; three awards for his direction and performance as Dr. Dysart in Equus; was up for Washington, DC’s Helen Hayes honors as Oscar Wilde in the world premiere of Oscar & Speranza; toured as Amos “Mr. Cellophane” Hart in Chicago; and he has traveled three times to New Orleans for the annual Tennessee Williams Literary Festival, opening the fest in 2003 as Williams himself in Lament for the Moths and since returning to appear in An Ode to Tennessee and opposite Karen Kondazian as A Witch and a Bitch. Never one to suffer from typecasting, Travis’ most recent LA performance, as Rodney in The Katrina Comedy Fest, netted the cast a Best Ensemble Sage Award from ArtsInLA. He has also been seen as Wynchell in the world premiere of Moby Pomerance’s The Good Book of Pedantry and Wonder and Frank in Charles Mee’s Summertime at The Boston Court Performing Arts Center, Giuseppe “The Florist” Givola in Brecht’s The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui for Classical Theatre Lab, Ftatateeta in Shaw’s Caesar and Cleopatra at the Lillian, Cheswick in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest at the Rubicon in Ventura, Pete Dye in the world premiere of Stranger at the Bootleg (LA Weekly Award nomination), Shelly Levene in Glengarry Glen Ross at the Egyptian Arena, the Witch of Capri in Williams’ The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore at the Fountain, and Dr. Van Helsing in The House of Besarab at the Hollywood American Legion Theatre. As a writer, he has also been a frequent contributor to several national magazines and five of his plays have been produced in LA. His first, Surprise Surprise, for which he wrote the screenplay with director Jerry Turner, became a feature film with Travis playing opposite John Brotherton, Luke Eberl, Deborah Shelton and Mary Jo Catlett. His first novel, Waiting for Walk, was completed in 2005, put in a desk drawer, and the ever-slothful, ever-deluded, ever-entitled Travis can’t figure out why no one has magically found it yet and published the goddam thing. www.travismichaelholder.com