13 Mania Grips Jerusalem


Premier Local Performance of a New Broadway Play Taps into the Power and Soul of Youth

If you are not at this very moment extremely excited about going to see the musical 13 in Jerusalem, odds are that you are not a kid in your early teens enrolled in a high school in our nation’s capital.

If you are a Jerusalem teen, you probably already know most of what I’m about to write. For the benefit of the rest of you, as something of a public service, here’s some background that will let you in on a local phenomenon:

13 (music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown) is a new musical. First performed in 2007 in Los Angeles, it hit Broadway in 2008. Experiencing the Israeli premier of such a newly-minted Broadway-quality show could be reason enough to explain the anticipation for opening day, but the real root of the 13-mania currently gripping Jerusalem is the show itself and the energy-driven production.

The story centers on 12-going-on-13-year-old Evan Goldman, who is forced to move from the center of the cool world (New York City) to an alien and hostile (for him) environment at the other end of the universe: Appleton, Indiana. Thrust into a new small-town reality, Evan (played by Coren Feldman) attempts to cope, undergoing harrowing social trials that bare the heart of the adolescent experience, but also speak to adult sensibilities.

The plot is too complicated (what teenager’s life is not?) for this article, but suffice it to say that it is a compelling story for playgoers of all ages. It’s fun to see the world through teenage eyes. Adolescents may experience things more intensely than we adults do, but the themes of acceptance, friendship, personal courage, manipulation, betrayal, redemption, decisions and consequences, learning and growing resonate with adults as well.. 

The heart of a musical is the score, and in the case of 13, the clever lyrics and catchy music drawing from several genres are powerful and compelling enough to ensure widespread foot-tapping throughout the show. Audiences leave humming and scrambling for You Tube and favorite music download and purchase sites.

But the real heart of this production by Center Stage Theater Merkaz Hamagshimim Hadassah is the surprising talent and enthusiasm of the young cast under the guidance of Director Liel Zahavi-Asa and Dramaturg Jacob Hellman. “The energy is amazing! I swear, at times the cast is practically jumping off the walls,” says versatile 16-year-old Feldman, who convincingly portrayed a serious 16-to-20 year old Reuven in the recent production of The Chosen, and now somehow equally convincingly embodies the very different personality of a street-smart urban 12-year-old.

Fervor and passion seem to have embedded themselves in the cores of each of the 12 teenage cast members. “I love this show,” exclaims Eliana Brown (Cassie). “I spend all of my time at the theater. Being onstage with this cast is so much fun — there’s nothing better than knowing we worked as hard as we could and that the show is coming out well.”

The other actors share the excitement and delight. Yael Greenspan (Charlotte) remarks, “It’s the most amazing production I’ve ever been in. I wait for rehearsals all week. We have so much fun rehearsing. I sing the songs so often that all my friends have started to sing them and are now eager to see the show.”

Adds Etana Epstien (Patrice), “Being in 13 is exciting! Every time I come to rehearsal it charges me up and makes me so happy! This is a really great theatrical experience. Being onstage is not as easy as it looks; it’s a lot of work — but it’s worth every minute.”

Virtually every other cast member expresses similar zeal. Having been privileged to observe a rehearsal, I can report that the enthusiasm is justified and contagious. I felt pride that our Israeli schoolkids could put out such a convincing and high-quality theatrical product. Between their acting and the inspired directorial guidance, I found my eyes rewarded amply no matter where I looked on the stage – every member of the cast in character, singing, dancing and emoting with all of their heart and might. The impact is significant.

In the words of Director Liel Zahavi-Asa, “One of the things that especially stands out for me in this show is that the entire cast are teenagers and that’s a prime reason why the show works. There is a certain magic that happens the second these kids get onstage and start singing. They are very, very talented; we couldn’t have gotten luckier with this cast. When you watch the kids sing these songs and dance with so much power and soul, the world of the script becomes alive and believable. They all really believe in this show – it’s like a mission – and that comes through onstage.”

Adds the show’s dramaturg, Jacob Hellman, “Geographically and culturally, you can’t get much farther from Indiana than Israel yet this show is a celebration that hits the high notes of youth and Americana, culminating in a coda that resounds from “out there” in Middle America to right here in the Middle East. Both are places where 13-year-olds will continue to listen to the beat of their own music and create the soundtracks for their own lives.”

The workshop premiere of 13 in Israel will take place on March 3rd and 4th at 8PM at Center Stage Theater in Jerusalem. For tickets and information call 052-603-9115 or email cst@themerkaz.org. Additional workshop performances will take place on March 31st at 6 and 7:30 PM at Beit Avi Chai in Jerusalem. The first performance of the full play is tentatively scheduled for this autumn.

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