When I was a child it seemed like kids were only allowed to venture as far in comedy and conflict as wobbly shopping carts and being grounded without television. Today these are still realities in children’s lives, but their worlds have expanded far beyond and conflicts that were once abstract thoughts covered in dressed up parables have become a issues discussed directly without cutzy-ing it up so parents feel safe.
The plight of Evan Goldman in 13, a new musical at the Jacobs Theatre, to find enough friends in his new Indiana hometown to fill his Bar Mitzvah is an example of such a change.
The musical deals with Evans alteration from a geek into a cool kid to win over the student body. As the after school special continues he learns valuable life lessons about being himself while others deal with consequences for covert hostilities. The Mean Girls for Jewish Boys show has continually failed to hold its own on Broadway. This past week only 42.9 percent of the seats were filled. This is not an old play rounding out its run. It’s a new production quickly bombing.
Thirteen had previews beginning on September 16, 2008 and an official opening on October 5, 2008. This is not a case of people, even kids, ignoring Broadway. Productions like Wicked are still going strong with, yes, a symbolic story, but it is a far more adult symbolic story.
Today’s kids are beyond the family friendly label. Pre-teens know things, about sex and drugs that once only the kids from the most dysfunctional homes knew about. A musical like 13 was bound to fail. Only in over protective parents’ minds does it succeed. To them I imagine it lets them think of their children who are just entering puberty as innocent.
They are not. The success of Disney musicals may counter this argument, but those productions, like the Lion King show, the Little Mermaid musical, and Mary Poppins tickets hit a wider age range among kids and they are based on movies that have already had a chance to create some kind of nostalgia with the kids. Its like when you watch Mary Poppins and remember your childhood.
A new story that so rampantly talks down to kids who know much, much more than anyone would have ever thought possible was going to confirm the failure of the parents to catch on to what their children actually know. The musical has been a dismal failure an it could have been foreseen by any with any kind of a touch on the pulse of the 21st century.