Friday, October 24, 2008

All the young skanks

You gotta have a gimmick, especially on Broadway, so the musical 13 has one: there isn't a single adult in the cast. (The title refers to the lead character's turning that age, and the plot hinges on his bar mitzvah.) But this isn't my main problem with the show, and as much as he set himself up as a target for ridicule in his recent New York Times profile, Jason Robert Brown's score isn't either. My colleague Adam Feldman shot down 13 with his usual deadly accuracy in his Time Out New York review, but he didn't really explore the one aspect that bugged me most: 13's bizarrely musty mysogyny.

The show opens with a scene in which the kids dance up a storm in what's supposed to be a New York street. One of the girls is leaning against a lamppost, striking a come-hither pose. "Is she supposed to be a hooker?" I whispered to my friend, only half-joking. She wasn't, but she sure looked like one. And it was all downhill from there: The love interest is a bland hippy chick, the best friend is a sexually aggressive manipulator, the popular girl has zero personality. None of them registers at all, and all of them are stuck in thankless parts with thankless songs. There's just something seriously wrong about a show that depicts a young girl in such a light that the Times critic feels at liberty to describe her as "skanky." (To be clear: there's something icky about both the show and the critic so casually calling a 13-year-old girl skanky.)

Finally, and unrelated to the girl issue, these guys have the gumption to poke fun at Disney. Sure, Disney's done its share of dreck, but it's also brought to Broadway the likes of Julie Taymor, Matthew Bourne and Francesca Zambello. Guys doing conventional pap like 13 don't have a leg to stand on.

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