13: The Musical is now streaming on Netflix.
By Derrick Dunn
Following a two-decade hiatus to utilize her talents in the world of television, director Tamara Davis makes a return with features in Netflix’s 13: The Musical. Robert Horn pens the film’s screenplay, which is an adaptation of his same-titled 2007 Broadway musical that he wrote with Jason Robert Brown and Dan Elish. The film follows Evan Golden (Eli Golden) on a coming-of-age journey through preteen life’s unforgettable ups and downs.
After his parents, Joel (Peter Hermann) and Jessica (Debra Messing), divorce, Evan and his mom move from NYC to small-town Indiana to live with Grandma Ruth (Rhea Perlman). With his Bar Mitzvah fast approaching, Evan hatches a plan to win new friends by turning his Bar Mitzvah into the most extraordinary party ever. As an outsider navigating the complicated social circles of his new school, Evan quickly finds out he’s not the only one grappling with the all too familiar anxieties of eighth grade.
While his new friends Patrice (Gabriella Uhl) and Archie (Jonathan Lengel) fret over the fate of the planet and unrequited love, respectively, popular cheerleader Lucy (Frankie McNellis) desperately plots to stave off the first kiss between her crush Brett (JD McCrary) and best friend Kendra (Lindsey Blackwell). To make matters worse, Evan invites the popular kids to his party—who aren’t fans of Patrice. With these competing interests in play, Evan faces the impossible task of bringing everyone together happily in time for his party or risk social ruin. Thankfully he has the tutelage of Rabbi Shapiro (Josh Peck) to help along the way.
I had never even heard of 13: The Musical until Netflix sent it my way for my review. As I’m not in the demographic, I primarily hit play to the acting of JD McCrary, who impressed with his work in the live-action Lion King and Little. Nevertheless, I’ve always had a soft spot for musicals, so I went in with an open mind.
I must say that hearing the opening number “13/Becoming a Man” pulled me into the film. Eli Golden pulls us into Evan’s pain of having to move to a new town, and the lyrics and choreography compliment his feelings quite well. Similarly, our introduction to all of the characters in the film has them belting out tunes that go along with whatever the current situation is. I found myself tapping my feet.
Primarily the film rests on the shoulders of our young cast, and they all do enough while acting at the appropriate age. One of the things I commend the script for is not trying to make them overly mature but enjoying life as tweens. That said, the adults in the cast pretty much fall into the background, but the narrative structure of the film requires the angle works.
It was also great to see world-renowned producer Harvey Mason Jr. working on another film. Even before he did the film soundtrack for Dreamgirls with the rest of The Underdogs, Mason made classic R&B tunes. The soundtrack album is produced by Harvey Mason Jr., with orchestrations by Mark Graham. When the characters of Eddie, Malcolm, Simon, and Richie perform the show-stopping “Bad News,” you will recognize Mason’s production style.
13: The Musical is by no means a perfect film, and I’m sure some audiences will find it overly cheesy. However, it is harmless enjoyable family entertainment worth checking out.
I give 13: The Musical a B.