Delaware Theater Spotlight

Saturday, January 25, 2014

13 at the Wilmington Drama League

At first glance, it might be easy to assume Wilmington Drama League's production of 13, The Musical is a kids production. 13 teenagers on stage singing about the trials and tribulations of turning 13 years old. Something just for other young adults. But to do so would shortchange both the actors and yourself. 13 is a fun, hilarious show that all ages will enjoy, featuring some of the best young actors and actresses in our area.

13 is the story of Evan Goldman - the new kid in town. He grew up in New York City, but just before his 13th birthday his parents separate, and he moves with his mother to small-town Indiana. He quickly makes friends with Patrice, his somewhat geeky next-door neighbor, but longs to get in with the cool kids and have them come to his epic Bar Mitzvah party. Can he balance his friendship with his wish for popularity?

Director Nick D'Argenio chose a minimalist approach to the set - an empty stage with a white scrim hanging in the back that's used as a screen for scene projections from the front or silhouettes of adults from behind. Some set pieces are brought in to help stage select scenes - lockers at school, stadium seating at a movie theater. But for the most part, D'Argenio chooses to let the talents of his actors, Anthony Vitalo's band, and Tommy Fisher-Klein's choreography speak for themselves.

And what a cast! Assembling a group of teens who can handle a challenging Jason Robert Brown score must have been no easy task. But D'Argenio has found an incredible group who obviously love acting in general, this show in particular, and, most importantly of all, each other. There's no better way to make a winning show than to have actors who are truly having fun and enjoying what they're doing on stage. And it's apparent that this cast is having a blast bringing this show to life.

Sure, the characters are somewhat stereotypical. There's the dumb jock (the suave Felipe Rocha) and his lackeys (the hysterical Wyatt McManus and Jacob Tracey), the ditzy cheerleader (Amanda DeFilippis, who shines even more when she gets to step out of the "ditz" persona), the manipulative gossip (Lyndie Moe, who played the part so well, I'm afraid to cross her!), even the outcast with a physical disability (Will Rotsch, who has incredible comic timing). But there's a reason stereotypes exist - you probably know or knew people in your own life who resembled each of these characters in some way. And whether they're drawing from firsthand experience or just really good performers, all the actors bring a realism and humanity to each of the characters... even the unlikeable ones.

The characters are also all flawed, which further lends to their realism. Gianni Palmarini's Evan gets so caught up in his quest for popularity that he forgets who his real friends are. Somehow Palmarini makes Evan likeable even when he's being horrible to Karalyn Joseph's Patrice. Considering she's so disliked by the rest of the characters, it would be easy to take Patrice's geekiness over the top (think Alex Dunphy on Modern Family). But Karalyn brings a laid-back ease to Patrice, making her more like the girl next door who just doesn't fit in and is ok with it. And aside from just the acting, listening to Palmarini and Joseph sing is simply a joy.

But the talent isn't focused solely in the lead and supporting actors. The ensemble players are also a thrill to watch and hear. Each gets his or her own chance to shine, be it Branden Fletcher's Richie during the doo-wop-inspired "Bad Bad News", Kyra McKillip's Charlotte during the show's closing number, "A Little More Homework," or any of the others. There isn't a weak link in this group of artists. Even on the extremely rare occasion that a voice cracks a little, it doesn't feel like a mistake. It's something these characters would really have to deal with at their ages, so it lends even more realism to the situation.

13 may be considered an unlucky number, but it's a hit for the cast and crew of the Wilmington Drama League's latest production. Young adults will enjoy seeing they're not alone in some of the troubles they face, while adults can enjoy (or cringe) at reliving those uncomfortable days from their own youth. It's an excellent reminder that all of us - kids, teens, and grown-ups alike - are never done working on becoming the person we can be... we all have "a little more homework to do." 13 continues at the Wilmington Drama League through February 2nd. For more information and tickets, visit

Posted at 2:40pm on January 25, 2014 by Jason Thomas

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