Note: I don’t officially review Children’s Musical Theaterworks productions these days, but I want to acknowledge some of the things I liked about the recent production of “13: The Musical,” which closed Sunday, March 20, at Fresno Memorial Auditorium:
The giant “13” projected on the ceiling before the show began (credit goes to Vye Robinson), just part of Dan Aldape’s spiffy lighting design and technical director Joe Wettstead’s vision for the production.
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The rock-concert format. Director Hannah Huyck envisioned this production as a direct conduit for Jason Robert Brown’s memorable score, with the emphasis on the singers and songs. With only a few representational scenic pieces, the bleacher-style set created an intimate space for music and dialogue. (And thanks to Aldape’s lights, the mood changed dramatically.) I’m a big fan of Brown’s score for this show and was glad to see it given such prominence.
The Sosa brother-sister combination. I saw the “New York” cast perform at the second-weekend Saturday matinee, and I was tickled to see Diego Sosa play the acerbic Archie (who spends the play in crutches) in a leading role opposite his sister Maya (who played Patrice, the conscience of the play). With Diego’s comic timing and Maya’s vocals, it’s clear this is a talented family. Their scenes with Jonathan Padilla, who had some touching moments as Evan, the musical’s main character, were strong.
Michael Dumas’ choreography, which turned such songs as “Hey Kendra” and “Bad Bad News” into comic highlights.
The final number, “Brand New You,” with spirited vocals from Mary Bouton, Riley Randel, Ashlyn Kolbert and a pumped-up ensemble. Lots of good energy there.
The subject matter. CMT has presented a lot of “Jr.” productions in recent years, and who can blame the company: Disney is great for all ages, and it sells lots of tickets. But “13” had much more realistic and mature themes. It was nothing that would shock the average 13-year-old, mind you, but it was subject matter that might unsettle parents still thinking of their young teens with a Disney mindset. Here’s to youth theater that actually address youth issues.
Finally, it’s fun for me to watch a cast and simply see who stands out in terms of stage energy, zeal and contribution to the material. It can be a star or ensemble member. In this case, I was very impressed by Juan Andreas Bautista, as Richie. He spent every moment on stage completely committed to his character, and his enthusiasm was infectious. He’s a natural talent in terms of standing out on stage, and I want to encourage him in his theater dreams.