Coming of age

In the Broadway musical ‘Thirteen,’ a pre-bar mitzva boy’s problems strike a resonant chord with audiences worldwide.

Thirteen 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Thirteen 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Merkaz Hamagshimim, Hadassah’s Center Stage Theater in Jerusalem, presents a new production that is as fresh as summer itself. Thirteen is a Broadway musical that will, by the end of the performance, make you want to leave your seat and join the actors in singing their hearts out to soulful beats, which the producers believe have the power to make you forever young.
The plot revolves around Evan Goldman, a boy from New York who is about to have his bar mitzva. His entrance into adulthood is paved with the typical hardships of a teenager, which resonate strongly throughout the play: “Why is the world feeling suddenly stranger? Why are my friends acting totally weird? Why do I feel my life is in danger? Why do I feel like my brain disappeared?” Besides asking the difficult questions about his identity and an intense search for direction in his life, Evan also has to face the external pressures of his parents’ divorce and his subsequent move to Indiana, where he has to get used to a new school environment and undertake the challenge of making new friends.
Evan’s struggle to find a place in the world and in his new school is cleverly intertwined with the fates of other characters, who are at times plotting and scheming against him but in the end identify with his struggle.
Together with the outsider Patrice, the disabled Archie, the football star Brett, the beautiful Kendra, the scheming Lucy and a host of other students, Evan learns a lot about friendship, loyalty, love and growing up, one step at a time, and that no matter where you are in life, you still have “a little more homework to do.”
This witty and playful production is directed by 19-yearold Liel Zahavi Asa under the technical supervision of Rafi Poch.
“I chose this play because the theme of growing up is very close to my heart. I have directed two plays in Jerusalem, Peter Pan and Tick Tick Boom, both of which deal extensively with the issue of figuring out who you are in this world and what you want to do in your life,” Zahavi Asa told The Jerusalem Post.
When the show first appeared on Broadway in 2008, Zahavi Asa immediately knew she wanted to bring it to the Israeli audience because of its Jewish undertones.
“I found the melodies so catchy and the theme so eternal, that I knew it would be as relevant here as anywhere else in the world, and not only to teenagers. We are hoping that people of all ages will come to see the play and find themselves in it. It is such a fun show, but it has a depth, too, that will touch you and perhaps remind you of the dreams you had as a youngster. If you are a teenager, it will show you that you are not alone in your struggle and that there are millions of others who are going through exactly the same things in life. Such knowledge can be comforting,” she said.
Though only 19, Zahavi Asa has been in theater production for the last five years and enjoys her work with the kids immensely. “I know I am only a couple of years older than my actors, which can be challenging in terms of maintaining a level of respect and authority sometimes,” she laughs.
“But I don’t believe in yelling. I want everyone to want to come to the rehearsals, have fun, make friends. That is what it’s all about.”
The cast is made up of 12 actors, more than half of them religious.
Regarding the recent controversy in Jerusalem over performing in front of mixed audiences, Zahavi Asa said they have not had any problems in that area yet. “We choose actors who are really passionate about the play, and we go through the script with the religious kids’ parents. We talk out all the problematic passages. If there are sexually inappropriate innuendos, we take them out. But so far, I have met with only tolerance and flexibility. Parents always tell me, ‘You are presenting the truth. Go for it!’”
Performances will be held at Beit Avi Chai on Sept. 5 and 7 and at the Center Stage Theater on Sept. 14, 15, 16, and 19 (7a Rehov Dor Ve’dorshav, German Colony, Jerusalem). All performances begin at 8 p.m. The performances at Beit Avi Chai will be outdoors, so dress accordingly.