Review: 13: The Musical at Third Wall Productions

TheatreBloom rating:

We’ve all got a little more homework to do when it comes to life. Learn not to judge, learn not to label, learn to be yourself! That’s the message that sixteen amazing young performers are preaching at Third Wall Productions and their current presentation of 13: The Musical. Directed by Kali Baklor with Musical Direction by Eliza Van Kan, this up-tempo life lesson of a musical is full of heart and teenage spirit and guaranteed to bring you back to middle school quicker than you can say “popular.”

Middle School nostalgia comes flooding back to the senses with Scenic Designer and Artist Amy Rudai and Set Designer Jordan Hollett, Dave Victor, and Pat Rudai in charge of the show’s overall visual appeal. With stripe-painted hallways, a roll-in locker unit, and all the touches of teenage interest in the roll-out bedroom scenes, the Design Team creates that adolescent verve to perfection. A bonus nod goes out to Amy Rudai for all of the bucolic farmland painting to exceptionally define “the lamest place on earth”, which is Appleton, Indiana before the kids come into the middle school.

The infamous "movie scene" where Bret totally intends to give Kendra THE TONGUE in 13: The MusicalAmanda N. Gunther | TheatreBloom
The infamous “movie scene” where Bret totally intends to give Kendra THE TONGUE in 13: The Musical

Lighting Designer Jim Shomo does some clever craftwork when it comes to highlighting the intimate play space where Third Wall Productions currently resides. Shomo’s finest work in 13: The Musical is the raw blue-lighting with that off-putting white glow during the movie theatre scene. This is done in such a way that it really makes the kids look like they’re in a cinema, the glow reflecting on their faces quite well. Shomo uses a bit too much red at times, particularly during the more emotionally pumped numbers, but his focal spotlights for individually blocked spoken scenes are spot on.

Choreographer Mea Holloway isn’t simply getting 16 teenaged performers to move to the music, she’s capturing the essence of an attitude in her routines. Combining fun movement with nods to more traditional dance styles throughout the production, Holloway keeps the energy pumping for big dance-heavy songs like “13” and “Brand New You” while simultaneously giving the smaller group numbers, like “Hey Kendra,” a groovy and unique vibe all their own that allows some of the supporting characters to really pop into the spotlight and shine.

The Cheerleaders of 13: The Musical doing "Opportunity"Amanda N. Gunther | TheatreBloom
The Cheerleaders of 13: The Musical doing “Opportunity”

Director Kali Baklor focuses on the telling the stories of these characters and in making sure that the quirks of these middle school stereotypes read cleanly throughout the performance. Her blocking of various interactions feels organic, and her approach to playing straight scenes really helps the funnier moments of the show find earnest footing among the deeper emotional sections and realizations of the show’s overall message. Encouragingly enthusiastic when it comes to ensuring that each performer is loving every minute that they’re on stage, Baklor brings her seasoned theatrical expertise to the forefront by honing in on the little moments, which make for excellent points of character development.

Whether it’s the ensemble of students and cheerleaders, featuring Taylor Casalena, Margaret Hamilton, Morgan Hewitt, Chris Owens, and Andi Rudai, doing their fabulous thing in the background scene of the movies, or the girls in “Opportunity”— the big cheer routine, or the super cheerleaders Charlotte (Ma’issa Wright-Kerr) and Cassie (Dance Captain Carly Victor) rocking out their solos for “Brand New You”, everyone is finding their “middle-school-moment” to soak up the sun and shine.

(L to R) Pierce Elliott (on the wall) as Evan, Jake Schwartz as Bret, Jake Clark as Ritchie, Aidan Slowey as Malcolm, and Maren Wright-Kerr as Eddie in 13: The MusicalAmanda N. Gunther | TheatreBloom
(L to R) Pierce Elliott (on the wall) as Evan, Jake Schwartz as Bret, Jake Clark as Ritchie, Aidan Slowey as Malcolm, and Maren Wright-Kerr as Eddie in 13: The Musical

There are lots of humorous moments and hilarious things happening in this zippy musical, not the least of which are the dopey goons— Malcolm (Aidan Slowey) Eddie (Maren Wright-Kerr) and Ritchie (Jake Clark) who follow Bret around trying to keep his head on the ground and out of all the hype of “The T.” Slowey, Wright-Kerr, and Clark get their groove on for “Hey Kendra” as well as “Bad, Bad News” and really take every opportunity they get in these and many other numbers to rock out their crazy personalities, with Wright-Kerr lending her voice to some serious belted notes in “Bad, Bad News” and Slowey lending his more dulcet tones to the character of a Rabbi during “Becoming a Man.”

Anastasia Johns (left) as Kendra and Anike Sonuga (right) as Lucy in 13: The MusicalAmanda N. Gunther | TheatreBloom
Anastasia Johns (left) as Kendra and Anike Sonuga (right) as Lucy in 13: The Musical

With ferocious resting fury-face, Anike Sonuga takes on the role of Lucy and delivers serious mean-girl shade all throughout the performance! With a banging voice to accompany her fierce personality as Lucy, Sonuga knocks numbers like “It Can’t Be True” and her solo section of “Getting Ready” out of the park. Playing opposite of the sweetly naïve Kendra (Anastasia Johns), there is a serious contrast between popular of the nice variety and popular of the mean variety in these two teenage queens. Johns delivers the epitome of the delicately dippy girl, none too bright but pretty as can be. She even holds her own against the sassy Lucy and delivers a lovely sound for her solo bits in “Getting Ready” and “Any Minute Now.”

Jake Schwartz (left) as Bret and Pierce Elliott (right) as Evan in 13: The MusicalAmanda N. Gunther | TheatreBloom
Jake Schwartz (left) as Bret and Pierce Elliott (right) as Evan in 13: The Musical

Delivering laughs to one smiling audience member at a time, Jake Schwartz as Bret— the most popular football jock in school— comes into his own as the big bully of the school. With his hilariously astute observation of “that’s not candy” upon encountering the girl’s locker room to keep Kendra and Lucy from clawing each other’s eyes out over him, Schwartz understands comic timing and presence of mind while on the stage. Owning the menace of a threatening character like Bret, Schwartz makes it easy to believe that he’s going to beat the snot out of Evan if he doesn’t get his date with Kendra. Keep an eye on just how he thinks he will deliver “The T” once he gets his date.

Jaylen Fontaine (left) as Archie, Pierce Elliott (center) as Evan and Grace Volpe (right) as Patrice in 13: The MusicalAmanda N. Gunther | TheatreBloom
Jaylen Fontaine (left) as Archie, Pierce Elliott (center) as Evan and Grace Volpe (right) as Patrice in 13: The Musical

Another master of comic timing, Jaylen Fontaine takes up the role of Archie and does an exceptional job of physically limiting the character to the crutches he uses to get around. Quick with a quip and a super smooth voice for numbers like “Get Me What I Need” and his verses of “Getting Ready,” Fontaine has all eyes in the audience on him. His zippy comic delivery, particularly in one-on-one exchanges with Patrice (Grace Volpe) and Evan (Pierce Elliott) are what keeps people engaged in his part of the tale. All eyes on Fontaine during “Brand New You” as well because his quick break-out dance move (both here and in the opening number) is well worth applauding.

Pierce Elliott (center) as Evan on the shoulders of Jake Clark (left) as Ritchie and Jake Schwartz (right) as Bret and the ensemble of 13: The MusicalAmanda N. Gunther | TheatreBloom
Pierce Elliott (center) as Evan on the shoulders of Jake Clark (left) as Ritchie and Jake Schwartz (right) as Bret and the ensemble of 13: The Musical

Pierce Elliott turns Evan Goldman into the relatable kid that we all remember from middle school. Either we all remember him because we were him or we picked on him or we befriend him. Earnest and snappy with all of his spoken delivery, Elliott finds the perfect balance between what is funny and what is serious. Singing with a great deal of heart, Elliott puts his all into numbers like “Becoming a Man”, “Being a Geek,” and “All Hail the Brain.” He patters to perfection through “All Hail the Brain” and articulates with stellar clarity through the rapid-fire verses of that number.

Pierce Elliott (left) as Evan, Jaylen Fontaine (center) as Archie, and Grace Volpe (right) as Patrice in 13: The MusicalAmanda N. Gunther | TheatreBloom
Pierce Elliott (left) as Evan, Jaylen Fontaine (center) as Archie, and Grace Volpe (right) as Patrice in 13: The Musical

Grace Volpe is stealing the show with her characterization and sensational singing voice. Pulling herself physically inward to match Patrice’s meager personality, Volpe clearly demonstrates just how uncool poor Patrice really is. The most emotionally connected song in the show, “Good Enough” is a two-verse number delivered phenomenally by Volpe to the point where it draws a tear to the eye. There is eager honesty in her rendition of “What it Means to Be a Friend” and her balance between her mixed belt and her head voice is nothing short of striking. Watch her vivid facial expressions throughout the performance, especially when she’s throwing a little sassy shade of her own at Archie and Evan.

A fantastically energetic cast, a wonderfully heartfelt performance, 13: The Musical gives these 16 young performers a chance to enjoy the craft of musical theatre and really give it their all. A must-see and a show not to be missed, get tickets quickly as this limited two-weekend engagement will fly right by!

Running Time: Approximately 2 hours with one intermission

13: The Musical opens on May 13, 2016 and plays through May 22, 2016 with Third Wall Productions at the Episcopal Church of the Messiah— 5801 Hartford Road in Baltimore’s Hamilton neighborhood. Tickets are on sale now and can be purchased by calling 443-838-4064 or purchasing them online.

To read Part 1 of “A Little More Homework” featuring Taylor Casalena, click here.

To read Part 2 of “A Little More Homework” featuring Jake Clark, click here.

To read Part 3 of “A Little More Homework” featuring Andi Rudai, click here.

To read Part 4 of “A Little More Homework” featuring Morgan Hewitt, click here.

To read Part 5 of “A Little More Homework” featuring Margaret Hamilton, click here.

To read Part 6 of “A Little More Homework” featuring Christopher Owens, click here.

To read Part 7 of “A Little More Homework” featuring Carly Victor, click here.

To read Part 8 of “A Little More Homework” featuring Ma’issa Wright-Kerr, click here.

To read Part 9 of “A Little More Homework” featuring Aidan Slowey, click here.

To read Part 10 of “A Little More Homework” featuring Maren Wright-Kerr, click here.

To read Part 11 of “A Little More Homework” featuring Anike Sonuga, click here.

To read Part 12 of “A Little More Homework” featuring Anastasia Johns, click here.

To read Part 13 of “A Little More Homework” featuring Jack Schwartz, click here.

To read Part 14 of “A Little More Homework” featuring Jaylen Fontaine, click here.

To read Part 15 of “A Little More Homework” featuring Grace Volpe, click here.

To read Part 16 of “A Little More Homework” featuring Pierce Elliott, click here.


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