Reilly Conlon, director of this year’s Tappan Players musical production (“13”), reportedly told her middle school student cast, “This show is everything you want to say to your parents, wrapped up in a musical.”
Why? Because the show, which premiered on Broadway in 2008 (with a book by Dan Elish and Robert Horn, and music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown), tells the story of 12 year old Evan, a New York kid who lands in a small Indiana town when his parents get divorced. While preparing for his bar mitzvah and adjusting to a new town and school, Evan gets caught up in a number of tween dramas. His first friend and neighbor, Patrice, develops a crush on Evan, but at school, she’s a social pariah; and while Evan schemes to get the most popular kid in school to attend his bar mitzvah, Patrice and others get caught in the crossfire.
“The reason we chose ’13’ is because it’s about the kids that are in it,” said Conlon. “We thought it was a great way to tell … stories that are relatable to kids in their age group. And the music is incredibly modern. It’s easy to grab onto, and get into, and be passionate about.”
That’s not to say that the music is technically simple, however. Far from it.
“The music is incredibly difficult,” said Conlon. “Jason Robert Brown is the composer, and he writes some of the most difficult music in the theater world today. To have (the student performers) tackle that is a challenge, but they’ve been very open to it, and very hardworking throughout the process. They’ve really made great strides.”
Since the show’s characters are nearing the threshold of young adulthood, they’re contending with changes and problems they’ve never faced before, including crushes, peer pressure, and hormones.
Conlon said the show selection didn’t cause concern among families, but rather “more questions about how we’d handle the language and some of the deeper themes,” she said. “Parents more often wanted to know how we were going to have conversations about these things, and to make sure the students were handling the subject matter with delicacy.”
Tappan Players – an outgrowth of Burns Park Players (which also stages one musical each year, powered by elementary school students, their families, and community members) – has been putting on an annual show since 1991. TP provides opportunities not only to middle schoolers interested in performing on stage, but also to those interested in working behind-the-scenes (lighting, set building, etc.).
The young people involved with “13” this year have responded to the way the show puts a spotlight on their day-to-day experiences – as fast-paced as they might be.
“Things happen so fast when there’s a – let’s call it middle school scandal, and gossip,” said Conlon. “The way it travels now is, we’re all on digital channels. … Things happen so quickly that things get away from them, and get out of their control, and just spiral. The kids appreciate that the show represents that and mirrors how they deal with conflict, and bullying, and peer pressure.”
But to be timely these days, you’ve got to act fast.
“This came out when I was in middle school ten years ago,” said Conlon. “So a couple of things are a little outdated already. But it still feels modern.”
Tappan Players’ production of “13” runs March 16-18, 2018, at Tappan Middle School. For showtime and ticket information, visit https://tappanplayers.com/.