They practice a choreographed musical number without fuss. Run lines, answer questions. All with surprising congeniality and calm. Although certainly living lives at least somewhat fraught with fretfulness given their mutual age, these young actors don’t seem to share the teen turmoil of their on-stage characters.
Langhorne’s Dan Booda, as the musical’s anxiety-ridden Evan Goldman, is complaining that his life just went to hell. Anyone with a teen has heard this song, different lyrics many a time, often accompanied by a rhythmic slamming of doors. But poor Evan has it bad. He’s preparing for his bar mitzvah while navigating his parents’ divorce, which includes a move from Manhattan to Indiana.
The skateboarding, gossiping, texting teens in the dance number remind Evan of the importance of this milestone event, “the Jewish Super Bowl.” A girl tells him how excited she is to attend his party, while a boy relays knowledge of invitations printed on money — all raising the bar for a kid with competing distractions.
The characters obsess about moustaches, Wonderbras and killing their mother. Off the practice stage of this teen rock musical with what McBride refers to as a PG-13 book, Dan and his fellow thespians show little sign of their alter ego’s fixations.
Dan, who has never acted outside of four productions at Maple Point Middle School, is a newcomer to Acting Naturally. “I wanted to start doing more shows,” he says. “I saw this and it was close by.”
Those around him are equally nonchalant, although they have performed with Acting Naturally before. Lauren Esser, a student at Gwynedd Mercy Academy who plays Kendra in 13, has been dancing in shows since she was 3, and acting for several years, as well. Her role is as head cheerleader, vivacious and popular.
Playing the decidedly unpopular Archie, Pennwood Middle School student Evan Kashinsky says his parents got him involved in acting, something the Yardley resident has been doing since second grade, mostly with Acting Naturally. Archie walks with crutches, which Evan has never had to do, so he’s struggling to learn to move and even dance with them.
Sylvia Fisher, an eighth grader at Charles Boehm, became enamored with acting after winning recognition this past year with her school at the International Thespian Festival. She plays boyfriend-stealing Lucy in the musical. “I’ve never played a mean girl,” she says. “It’ll stretch me.”
I happened to be lucky enough to have heard Sylvia sing outside of Acting Naturally and the burgeoning talent has a gorgeous voice.
These young actors all share the stage during the Jason Robert Brown musical that enjoyed a three-month run on Broadway. “It’s an ensemble show,” Lauren says. “We all have a story, motivations.”
Evan agrees. “The characters are out there. You’ve never seen people like it.”
“There are no limits,” Sylvia adds. “We love it. It’s more like punk rock: energetic, more fun for our voices.”
There will be live music, led by Bob Kashinsky on keyboard. The bass guitar, lead guitar and drummer are high school students. McBride says 13 is high energy, with great music and a lot of dancing.
They are learning complicated choreography from Megan Fulmer, who recently performed in the national tour of Shrek the Musical. Lauren refers to the dancing as “intense,” Sylvia as “challenging.”
The cast seems to be handling it just fine, surmounting the moves while their characters negotiate life at 13.
“The show has such a great message,” Sylvia says.
Dan adds: “It’s a really relatable show.”
McBride says the young actors are embracing the story, despite its material being “a little racy.” She is long over her concerns at broaching awkward situations with the teens in her cast, calling them professional. “You tell them to learn their lines and they come back with their lines memorized. They have their songs memorized.
“It’s just so much fun, so much fun.”
— Jodi Thompson