Bar mitzvah is musical’s hook
Clockwise from the top: Jason Sakaki (Brett), Julia Mclean (Patrice), Graham Verchere (Evan), Julian Lokash (Archie), Emma Leblanc (ensemble) and Rachel Valentina (ensemble). (photo by Anita Alberto)
Jason Robert Brown’s 13: The Musical, a show that centres around the bar mitzvah of its young hero, Evan Goldman, will première in Vancouver on Sept. 28, presented by Bring On Tomorrow Co.
Concerned both with authenticity and sensitivity with regards to the show’s Jewish content, director Chris Adams invited Congregation Beth Israel Rabbi Adam Stein to meet with the cast and crew after a rehearsal Aug. 29. The Jewish Independent was invited to attend.
13 was the first-ever Broadway show to feature an all-teenage cast when it debuted in 2008. The cast of the local production is an accomplished team of professional young actors who have appeared on such networks as ABC, NBC, CBC, Disney and FX. They were dynamic, cheerful and attentive throughout Stein’s visit, laughing at his jokes and making a few of their own as well. The rabbi, who himself has a background in theatre, seemed right at home.
The musical follows 12-year-old Evan Goldman, a Jewish kid from New York who moves to a small town in Indiana after his parents’ divorce. A fish out of water, the story details his struggle to adapt to his new community and make friends, with a key plot point centring around him trying to get the cool kids to come to his bar mitzvah, and the rite of passage that results as Evan’s perspective matures.
Stein explained the meaning of the bar mitzvah ritual to the cast, saying that the passage into adult moral responsibility is at its core. He also described some of the details of the synagogue ceremony. In 13, Goldman is heard singing one line of his Haftarah and Stein explained its meaning and checked the trope in the script, which was correct.
The rabbi also explained the meaning of the tallit and tefillin the bar mitzvah boy would begin wearing, and advised the cast about how the tallitot in the show should be handled – for starters, don’t hold them by the tzitzit (fringes). They also discussed how to stage and choreograph the synagogue scene, and debated how to costume the actors who appear in a dancing rabbis scene. Stein helped the cast imagine the layout of a synagogue, and suggested that having all the rabbis look like Chassidim would be stereotyping.
13: The Musical was penned by young adult novelist Dan Elish with TV producer and writer Robert Horn. Starring as Evan is Graham Verchere, 15, whose recent credits include Theatre in the Raw’s The Raymur Mothers and Arts Club Theatre’s A Christmas Story. Graham is a regular on the FX series Fargo and will appear in ABC’s The Good Doctor, which premières Sept. 25.
The Bring On Tomorrow cast also includes Jewish community member Julian Lokash, who just had his own bar mitzvah 15 months ago. “I first heard about the play at my own bar mitzvah,” Julian told the Jewish Independent. “Friends of mine who were there are now in the cast for this production.”
Asked if he played an ambassadorial role as the only Jewish actor in the play, Julian said he wouldn’t quite say that, but he did feel called to a certain degree of leadership. “Everyone turned to me when they had a question,” he admitted.
Julian’s acting credits include Theatre Under the Stars’ Shrek, Oliver! and Beauty and the Beast; the lead role of James in Carousel Theatre for Young People’s James and the Giant Peach; and roles in Gateway Theatre’s Music Man and Famous Artists Ltd.’s Mrs. Claus’ Kitchen.
13 director Adams is joined by vocalist Monique Creber as musical director. The production company, Bring On Tomorrow Co., is a collective of artists founded in 2016. The group “aims to assemble the city’s brightest professional theatre talent with award-winning musical artists to mount productions monumental in scale, energy and sound.”
Asked why Bring On Tomorrow was inspired to produce this show, Adams told the JI that it was all based “around the kids.”
“We knew we had the talent out there to present this show,” he said. “We wanted to give these professionals an opportunity to be leads…. Often kids in this city play the ‘kids’ roles. Well, in 13, every role is made for kids. They have to step it up because there isn’t a cast of professional adults driving their own show. It really is a wonderful challenge and something that a lot of them don’t get to experience every day.”
13 runs Sept. 28-Oct. 1 and Oct. 4-8 at the Waterfront Theatre. For tickets and more information, visit bringontomorrowco.com.
Matthew Gindin is a freelance journalist, writer and lecturer. He writes regularly for the Forward and All That Is Interesting, and has been published in Religion Dispatches, Situate Magazine, Tikkun and elsewhere. He can be found on Medium and Twitter.