13: The Musical (Soundtrack from the Netflix film) | Review
Monday, February 27, 2023
The clever thing about the score is that it has a teen vibe – it’s poppy and propulsive with catchy hooks
I saw 13 on Broadway back in 2008. Someone called Ariana Grande was in the ensemble, which is some indication of the potency of the casting on the Richter scale. I went to see it, not because of some unfulfilled penchant for pre-high school musicals but because it had a score by Jason Robert Brown, who in my opinion is perhaps the most prodigiously gifted songwriting talent on the planet. Some of his motivation for writing the piece will undoubtedly have come from his own empathy with the character of Evan Goldman – an almost-13-year-old Jewish boy who is uprooted from New York City and despatched with his newly divorced mother to Walkerton, Indiana, or as the second song in the show would have it ‘The Lamest Place In The World’. Evan is approaching his Bar Mitzvah and just wants it to be cool. It has to be cool.
The clever thing about Brown’s hyperactive score is that it has a teen vibe – it’s poppy and propulsive with more catchy hooks than a fishing convention
Now it’s a Netflix movie, so all those raging hormones, all that adolescent angst, will have an even more direct path to its target audience. Because the clever thing about Brown’s hyperactive score is that it has a teen vibe – it’s poppy and propulsive with more catchy hooks than a fishing convention. With the title song we’re plunged into a kind of communal pre-teen panic laying bare all of those eighth-grade anxieties like they’re going out of fashion.
And even as we touch down in sleepy Walkerton, one song seems to infect the next with its determination to be upbeat and groovy. ‘Opportunity’ is a driving wishlist of a number with a timely rap break to ratchet up its energy; ‘Getting Ready’ has Evan (Eli Golden) and his friend Archie (Jonathan Lengel) on the cusp of infatuation and first kisses; ‘It Would Be Funny’ sees Evan and his mother (Debra Messing) realising that that they might have more than they know in common.
My own favourites are ‘Tell Her’ – a sweet ballad for Evan and Patrice (Gabriella Uhl) about being big enough to apologise, which ends up as a kind of confessional for both of them – and the coming-of-age number ‘A Little More Homework’, which builds to anthem status at the climax of the show: ‘I need a little less pressure and a little more time.’ Not rocket science perhaps but sound thinking for vulnerable teens.
For those who know the show and the Original Broadway Cast album there are additions, omissions and a few placement changes. Three new songs have been written for the project: ‘I’ve Been Waiting’, ‘The Bloodmaster’ and ‘It Would Be Funny’. There is also a bonus track featuring a cover version of ‘Tell Her’ by singer/songwriter Alec Benjamin, and extended versions of ‘Getting Ready’ and ‘What It Means To Be A Friend’. But there’s a whole new audience that will be logging on with the Netflix movie, and for them the funky arrangements and high-octane energy will represent a new lease of life for the score.
Jason Robert Brown music, lyrics
Cast Eli Golden, Gabriella Uhl, Lindsay Blackwell, JD McCrary, Frankie McNellis, Khiyla Aynne, Shechinah Mpumlwana, Kayleigh Cerezo, Nolan Dubuc, Jonathan Lengel, Ramon Reed, Luke Islam, Liam Wignall, Debra Messing, Willow Moss, Alec Benjamin
Orchestrator, conductor Mark Graham