What college kid doesn’t remember wanting to be one of the popular kids in eighth grade? Who doesn’t remember that first party? First locker? First crush? The audience gathered in McInnis on March 28 proved it was not so removed from these formative middle school years through its animated response to Eastern Theater’s production of the musical comedy “13.”

“13” follows the story of Evan Goldman (senior Christopher Packard) who moved to Appleton, Indiana, following his parents’ divorce and is looking for new friends to invite to his Bar Mitzvah. Quickly becoming known as “The Brain,” Evan uses his knack for devising plans to “get in” with the popular jock, Brett (freshman Derrick Gregory), who desperately wants a date with the beautiful Kendra (senior Erin Baliles).

The audience response was uproarious as Brett and his friends talked about giving Kendra “the tongue” in a dark movie theater.

But Evan is not the only character using his natural resources to win friends and influence people. Archie (senior Eva Hall) is a sharp-witted boy with muscular dystrophy who uses his disease to maintain a guise of innocence and compete for Kendra’s heart. Meanwhile, Brett has his own fan club to contend with as “bad girl” Lucy (senior Alyse Haldeman) gossips and connives her way into his life. The only character not invested in the drama is the “geek” Patrice (senior Kendra DeMicco), who stands faithfully by her new friend Evan until he abandons her in favor of the popular kids.

The tale of friendship, jealousy and self-identity is accented by a series of lively musical numbers, including, “I’m Becoming a Man,” “What it Means to be a Friend,” and the show’s final song “A Little More Homework,” in which the characters decide they have come a long way, but still have a lot to learn.

A talented supporting cast consisting of Michael Sunbury, Kori Haten, Kaitlyn Albone, Bethany Franklin, Jahbria Cofield, Joseph Ferry, Andrew Whitehead and Heather McBride bring the stage to life with memorable characters such as Eddie and Malcom, Brett’s goofy sidekicks. The intermittent appearance of several musical rabbis (Whithead, Sunbury and Haten) throughout the performance brought many laughs and also some thoughtful moments, such as when one rabbi asks Evan, “Why is it so important to be popular?”

While the costumes, props and set design were unmistakably evocative of middle school in the early 2000’s (think Capri Sun, Razor Scooters and Gushers), the audience clearly identified with the themes of friendship, betrayal and trust. The lighthearted musical is a reminder that, at heart, a little part of us will always be 13.  

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