Gypsy Playhouse launches second season with the Broadway musical “13”
“13” has the distinction of being the only musical in Broadway history that had a cast composed entirely of teenagers. Gypsy Playhouse’s upcoming production of the musical is similarly age appropriate, with the cast consisting of aspiring actors ranging from 12 to 18 years old.
It makes sense. After all, Director Kimberly Suskind’s youthful cast is contending in real life with the same problems and challenges being faced by the characters in “13.”
“They’re all kind of facing this ‘Oh is this person really my friend or are they not?’ ‘Do I like this boy and does he like me back?’ ‘Does he not like me because I’m fat?,’” Suskind observes. “Even though it’s heightened because it’s a musical, they really do connect to these messages and the struggles that these kids are going through. It’s very contemporary and I think it’s a really honest and very, very funny portrayal of 13-year-old life.”
At its core, the musical is a classic coming-of-age story. It is centered around 12-year-old Evan Goldman who, following his parents’ divorce, is dragged from his beloved New York City to Appleton, Indiana, the lamest place in the world, but his dysphoria is tempered by the girl around the corner, Patrice, who develops a crush on Evan over their last month of summer vacation.
Starting a new school as an outsider is never easy. It’s even tougher in a small town like Appleton, where many of the kids have known each other since kindergarten and the circles of friends, or cliques, are well-established and virtually impenetrable.
However, Evan doesn’t want to just fit in. He wants to hang with the cool kids. So, he hatches a plan to help the most popular boy in school, Brett, get a date with the prettiest girl, Kendra, so that in gratitude, Brett and all the cool kids will come to his impending bar mitzvah.
One small problem; It turns out that his quirky friend Patrice is not well liked and the cool kids won’t come to his party if she’s there. So, he rips up her invitation, giving rise to a heartfelt and touching song that explores the difference between true and transactional friendship.
“Patrice falls in love with Evan and they become friends, and she thinks that he’s a really good friend … until, he’s not and he kind of betrays her,” said Mia Zottolo, who plays Patrice and soulfully reprises the song “What It Means To Be a Friend:”
A friend is the person
You call sixteen times every night
And if your heart is always breaking
And you want to run and hide
When your hope is gone
Your friend is on your side
If someone moves in 'round the corner
And you want to show him you care
So you give him all your last month of vacation
And all of the time you can spare
But then, on the first day of classes
He acts like you're not even there,
Then he doesn't know'
He doesn't know!
He'll never know what it means
To be a friend
The music in “13” is exceptional. Jason Robert Brown’s score carries the audience through the storyline with one irresistible song after another, but you have to have some really good singers to do justice to this musical’s songbook and Suskind’s performers deliver.
For example, there’s Hannah Cruz in the role of mean girl Lucy, who’s spreading rumors about her supposed bestie Kendra because they both like the same guy, and trashing another friend, Charlotte, in the process.
Oh, hey, Lucy.
Check this out.
I just got the juiciest text from Charlotte who told me the nastiest thing about Kendra.
Alright, I'll tell you.
But remember... Everything Charlotte says is a lie
It's a lie, it's a lie, it's a lie
Everything Charlotte says is a lie
You better not believe her
Cause she said she saw
Kendra and Evan at the mall
Standing face to face
Laughing, and talking, and holding hands
Slipping all the way to first base!
But everything Charlotte says is a lie
Suskind likens the song “It Can’t Be True” to a contemporary take on “Telephone Hour” from “Bye Bye Birdie.” While it works as a number in a musical, in this day and age Lucy and the rest of the girls would undoubtedly sabotage Kendra’s reputation through a meme war rather than resorting to their smartphones. However, in Suskind’s experience, bullying is bullying.
“It sort of feels a little bit like cyberbullying, where it’s through social media. It’s kind of the same idea. They’re on the phone. It spreads like wildfire in a way that it used to not be able to. So, we definitely explore that a little bit,” said Suskind.
As “13” underscores, Gypsy Playhouse doesn’t shy away from tough or controversial content. Its spring show will be “Chicago.” In only its second season, Gypsy Playhouse not only produces Broadway shows, summer camps and cabaret opportunities, it offers a full range of Broadway bound classes that include acting, voice, and dance.
Gypsy Playhouse is the theater arm of the Robin Dawn Academy of Performing Arts, which has been offering dance instruction for 48 years. The Academy moved to a fully-renovated 14,000 square-foot facility on Santa Barbara Boulevard in Cape Coral in 2020 and the additional space finally enabled Robin to add a theater arm to her art center.
“Gypsy Playhouse Theater is named in honor of my mother who passed away five years ago,” said owner and Artistic Director Robin Dawn Ryan.
“My mother was the true essence of Gypsy’s mother, Rose – very pushy, you can do it. And that was our favorite musical that we used to watch together. We all have moms who push us and want us to be the best and believe in us and that’s why I named it Gypsy,” said Ryan.
The playhouse’s overarching focus is to provide the actors who perform there the tools to become the best that they can as well. Auditions are open to everyone, not just Robin Dawn Dance Academy students, and Suskind welcomes the opportunity help develop young talent into top notch performers.
Given this backdrop, it is fitting that “13” ends with a celebration song titled “Brand New You.”
“‘A Brand New You’ is actually unique, because it’s after bows,” said Suskind. “It showcases some incredible vocalists that we have in the cast and it’s just a great upbeat kind of happy song. They’re going to be in the audience. They’re going to be getting the audience involved and it just leaves the audience with a really great feeling when they leave the theater.
I saw the cover and I judged
I turned away without a
But now, now, now
I see a brand new you.
I told myself I better run
I never noticed what was
But now, now, now
I see a brand new you,
And I can't stop myself
Ev'ry itty bitty thing you do!
I didn't know where
I Was meant to be.
I figured no one would be
There for me,
But now, now, now
I see a brand new you.
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