In the category of Who In Their Right Mind Thought This Would Be a Broadway Hit?, the musical 13 stands near the top.
Sure, Cats was a risk and a musical bio of the Four Seasons wasn’t exactly a lock, but a feel-good musical about a 12-year-old and his on-again / off-again friends played by an unknown cast of teens and preteens? At $76.50 to $111.50 a ticket?
The show closed after 22 previews and 105 performances, in spite of a score by Tony winner Jason Robert Brown.
The legacy of 13 would probably be limited to some regional theater productions and a line on Ariana Grande’s résumé if it weren’t for 13: The Musical, a new film adaptation now streaming on Netflix. The movie retains some of the score, adds a few new JRB tunes and suffers from both the same plot issues and who-is-this-for problems as its stage-based original.
The story concerns Evan (Eli Golden), whose life takes a sharp turn when his parents split and Mom moves with him from magical New York to small-town Indiana — or at least what people from New York or Los Angeles think of as small-town Indiana.
He quickly is befriended by the school outliers, gets in with the school insiders and has the problems you expect in movies such as this. What makes this one different — besides the frequent breaking into song — is both the innocence and the absurdity of the plotting.
A key subplot involves Evan’s new pals, Brett and Kendra, trying to find a place for their first kiss. In a move that would seem absurd even in a Frankie and Annette beach-blanket movie, Evan suggests they go see a horror movie and have their first canoodle there.
But how to get into an R-rated movie? If this were real life, they would, I don’t know, maybe just buy tickets and go. But in fantasy Indiana, theatre managers actually care about age restrictions. So Evan has to create a popcorn-spill distraction to get them and a mob of their pals into the auditorium. And because a jealous friend of Kendra’s doesn’t want the couple together, Evan has to enlist a pal to create an additional distraction when the lip-lock is about to happen.
Why is all of this happening? Because Evan wants a good turnout for his bar mitzvah. Of course, that’s why.
The kids are alright in a freshly scrubbed way. Unlike the adult-free stage production, grown-ups have been added here, including a charming Rhea Perlman as Evan’s loving grandmother, Debra Messing as his pouty mom and Josh Peck (of Drake and Josh fame) as a knowing rabbi. The film’s musical highlight comes not from one of the leads but from a quartet of supporting characters who offer a smoothly joyful “Bad Bad News” song-and-dance warning about the danger of falling for the wrong girl.
I predict that sometime, somewhere, a parent will search for this film to stream for their young ones and leave the room before realizing that, rather than 13: The Musical, they have inadvertently launched 2003’s harrowing Thirteen. They will have a lot of explaining to do.