First off, let me apologize to all my non-local readers. A brief explanation: COMO is cool-people abbreviation for Columbia, Missouri (MO), where I live. I just have to take a moment to debrief here. I went to go see a local production of 13! The Musical last Monday, of all nights. The performance was an encore run to a successful end-of–summer stint, which proved popular enough to re-run several weeks later, and even included some daytime showings for local middle schools. The production was a result of a partnership between Columbia Public Schools and Columbia College (where I teach voice), titled “Summer Arts Intensive,” and rightfully so. Last summer, a bunch of local high-schoolers worked their collective BEhinds off singing, dancing, and blocking, often for 4+ hours a day.
The phenomenal local talent were led by an equally awesome team, including Nollie Moore (director/producer), Tammy Walker (choreographer), and James Melton (music director), not to mention a comparatively stellar crew and pit.
The story focuses on the lives of several fresh-faced teenagers; their trials and tribulations, relationships, successes, and woes. The music and script intertwine perfectly, weaving comedic quips with tender truths, some nostalgic, others more bittersweet and somewhat painful. I found myself recalling my own delicate tween years; all those awkward group movie dates, weird little crushes, and understanding how to maneuver The Rumor Mill, in its horrid glory. All of that seemed so important to me back then, and having actual teenagers play the roles was an interesting juxtaposition to the fact that they themselves probably only very recently experienced (or are likely continuing to navigate) similarly tricky/awful situations. Middle school sucked, and high school sucked a little less (or more, depending on how you look at it), and the whole musical was a fresh reminder that the students I deal with on a weekly basis are still in the trenches. Just hold out, kids. It really does get better. If it doesn’t, you have my permission to show up at my door in the middle of the night with a flaming bag of poop.
Before you get all weird about this, reader, I was NOT paid, or even given a comp ticket to this show. I bought a ticket like everyone else. My opinion may be a teensy bit biased because I’m semi-woven into the network of involved parties, so take from that what you will.
Here were some TOP MOMENTS from the audience POV:
(Yes, most of these are music-related, but guess what: I’m a music teacher, so that’s what I’m going to focus on…unlike another nameless community figure who “reviews” local plays and musicals, but really has no training whatsoever on how to critique a show, and whom I have on good authority has actually fallen asleep in the audience)
The main character, played by Cole Walker, consistently and magically navigated an ungodly vocal range. It’s not Jason Robert Brown if someone isn’t straining their voice to accommodate some ridiculous notes on each end of the spectrum. I often wonder if Brown ever actually tries to sing his own stuff before hitting “submit,” or if he really is some untouchable Tenor God that can sing every note he writes. When I described this anomaly to a friend, I dubbed Walker’s role as “Tenor +++, Counter-tenor-minus, guy-belting-alto.” During the run, I found myself humming along just to match pitch and see what sort of notes we’re talking about here, and I’m sure there were some B4s and maybe even a C5 in there for good measure. PROPS to Cole Walker (and really, the entire cast) for getting. that. done. That stuff is NOT easy to sing.
Speaking of range, I gave a big hand to that otherworldly, freakishly high note at the end of “Bad, Bad News.” I wish I knew enough names to attribute that glorious falsetto to someone specific, but I could imagine anyone from the cast reading this, nodding, and chuckling knowingly to themselves. You know who you are, I’m sure.
Re: vocal timbre. There is some real beauty in the role of Patrice, played by Sarah Merrifield, and I found myself entranced by her vocal tone, which lent itself so dang well to the character. Keep up the amazing technique, Sarah. You’re doing it correctly.
What sweet, sweet choreography throughout. Tammy Walker is a choreo wizard in character shoes, and really knows how to play up everyone’s movement strengths. Loved the nod to Beyonce’s “Single Ladies,” which was even more breathtaking when performed by high-school boys pretending to be 13-year-olds. That is something I can honestly say I have never seen before.
I shoulder-shimmied to some rocking, Aguilera-esque vocal riffs by Maddi Mertz and Catera Combs, especially at the end. You ladies owned it. And pretty much everyone rocked the end.
Nothing quite beats a kid pretending to be a cripple and using walkers in a kick-line. Cheers to Neil Cathro for living the character! For some reason, yours was the most believable. You have a gift for nailing personality every. time. Don’t let the world ruin your penchant for witty flair and comedic timing.
Speaking of characters, I related the least to Lucy, the conniving, bossy wench (more commonly known as shit-stirrer), but can’t say I wasn’t friends with many a crazy one in my time. Leslie Walker played that to a T, though I’m sure she’s genuine in real life. Keep up the mad acting and dancing. I can’t get my legs to do what yours did in this show, nor have I ever been able to. And yes, I want them to :::attempts lame split-kick-piorette-thing, fails:::
THE PIT. Good lord, the Pit. You guys were a class act. Led by James Melton’s unstoppable “conducting wand” (’twas but a pencil, though). To the guitarists: your wa-wa pedal really lent a nice touch. Who doesn’t love a good bom-chicka-wom-wom to connote sexual tension? To everyone: good job playing what I can only assume to be the most-mixed-meter EVER. All the time. I stopped trying to bob my foot to the beat because a) I was alone in the back and b) I looked like I had, in fact, no rhythm whatsoever. Yes, I was the weirdo creeper who couldn’t keep the beat. Far from the case, I assure you. ::claps on one and three:::
The staging and set throughout was really eye-candy, to say the least. I was frequently drawn to the onstage shenanigans (like the background cheerleading sequence in “Opportunity“), yet nothing ever really pulled focus or was overdone, and that’s no easy feat. Snaps for creative use of props – was that a real tampon machine in the girl’s bathroom scene? If so, I’d like to hear the story on how that was acquired.
Finally, a little note to everyone I didn’t specifically mention, but with whom I feel like I shared a special moment in time: Carter Moore, Evan Twitchell, Josh Friedrich, Brice LaFond, Emily Mertens, Kyle Shearrer, Brady Butcher, and Nora Hennessy (in spirit!), along with a seemingly supernatural light and sound crew (supernatural = I can’t see it, but I know it’s there…get it?) Every one of you is a raging success. Keep up the superb work and never forget that you have shared something unique and amazing with the world.
To the general public: sadly, the run is over. Mehopes there may be another future summer intensive in the works, but only time will tell. In the meantime, get your booty to some musical productions this year and experience a mere sampling of the hot talent that COMO has to offer. If you’re like me, you’ll walk out skipping and feeling a pinch better about life, because that’s what musicals do to the soul.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have A Little More Homework To Do.
See what I did there? I crack myself up.
:::pours fourth cup of french press:::