The last time I was in Cadogan Hall, I was onstage with my closest friends and my violin performing with a youth orchestra. So, you can see why it was quite bizarre to be back at this gorgeous venue a mere decade (and a bit…) later, sitting in-front of a stage packed full of incredibly talented teenagers. But they weren’t enthusiastically slaving away at a Tchaikovsky symphony, they were full of infectious energy performing 13.
The music and lyrics of 13 are by Jason Robert Brown, who also wrote The Last Five Years – one of my favourite musicals with its goosebump inducing opening line “Jamie is over and Jamie is gone”. So, I already knew I’d love the music in 13. What I was less sure about was a performance billed as an “amateur production” with its cast of teenagers. But, ignoring a few fluffs that were smoothly dealt with, there was nothing amateur about this performance. It was, quite frankly, sensational. Come the end, I left with the biggest grin on my face, thankful that TFL mask requirements meant I didn’t draw too much attention on the District Line home.
13 tells the story of a boy who, due to his parents’ divorce, moves from New York to a quiet town in Louisiana, where he must try to fit in at his new school. What follows is a classic American High School caper with all the expected trials and tribulations. Think Grease meets Mean Girls. Where 13 stands out is in the quality of the songs, along with the immense talent of the teenagers performing them. Edward Flynn-Haddon plays Evan, the lead who is trying to find enough friends to fill his Bar Mitzvah. It’s an incredibly challenging role, with tongue-twister lyrics and gutsy ballads but Flynn-Haddonpulls it off with ease. Another stand-out performance comes from the understated Patrice, Evan’s neighbour, played by Ivy Pratt. Portrayed as the shy, girl-next-door, she sure packs a punch when she stands at the front of the stage and starts to sing.
It wasn’t just the vocal talent and the songs that stole the show, but the acting skills of the entire cast, all exceptional. Glancing around the chorus, seated at the side of the stage, there didn’t seem to be one cast member who wasn’t utterly invested in what was going on. A highlight was the brilliant comedic timing from the friends of school jock, Brett (Samuel Menhinick), especially during their performance of ‘Hey Kendra’. If these are the future stars of theatre, then the West End is in very safe hands.
The choreography by Corin Miller is equally fantastic, really helping to set the scene, as do the costumes. Despite the lack of set beyond chairs, I was still swept away to a cinema, the school, or Dairy Queen, as the drama required.
My only criticism is that at times the band, whilst consistently great, overpowered the vocalists. In some of the louder songs, it could be quite difficult to make out the lyrics. This was at no fault of the cast, it seemed to be an issue with the levels coming through the speakers. But I was so swept up in the energy and passion on stage I still loved every second.
Maybe it’s a symptom of being a musical lover back in an auditorium, hearing show tunes blaring out, but I’m not sure I’ll sleep tonight with the sheer adrenaline from the show coursing through my veins.
Music and lyrics by: Jason Robert Brown
Based on the book by: Dan Elish and Robert Horn
Directed by: Dean Johnson
Musical Direction by: Chris Ma
Choreography by: Corin Miller
Produced by: The British Theatre Academy
13 was performed as part of The British Theatre Academy’s free performing opportunities for young artists each summer to “limit barriers to training and ensure the future of UK theatre is diverse in all demographics and world leading in terms of quality”.