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Has Jason Robert Brown's musical '13' come of age?

October 3, 2008 | 10:52 am

13_ii The musical "13," which had its world premiere at the Mark Taper Forum in 2007, opens Sunday on Broadway , and the big question is:  Has the show matured enough to succeed on the Great White Way.

The producers had better make a collective birthday wish, because if this pubescent musical is anything like it was in L.A., it's going to be one angsty road.  Naturally, we wish the new set of kids luck. But in an economic downturn, who's going to want to pay Broadway prices for what amounted to, in my estimate, a glorified "Afterschool Special"?

OK, an "Afterschool Special" staged with "superlative artistry and verve," as my L.A. Times review pointed out.  But come on: How many middle-schoolers do you know with that kind of allowance?

Fortunately, new talent has been brought in. Jason Robert Brown, who won a Tony for "Parade," is still the show's bubblegum-rock composer and lyricist, but Robert Horn now is collaborating with children's author Dan Elish on the book, which received a "needs improvement" grade at the Taper.  One disappointing change: Todd Graff, whose film “Camp” examined the wacky world of musical theater youth and who did a buoyant theatrical job with "13" in L.A., is no longer directing. The new director is Jeremy Sams, the guy who adapted the Broadway production of "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" -- so obviously an expert on annoying children's fluff.   

The story, a popularity crisis involving a Jewish kid who moves from New York City to small-town Indiana, was problematic on so many levels, not least for the way a "special needs" student was used as a foil in the lame-brained plot.  But as any former pimply adolescent can attest, dramatic improvements aren't so far-fetched.            

-- Charles McNulty

Photo: "13" at the Mark Taper Forum. Credit: Beatrice de Gea / For The Times