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Photo credit: 13 the Musical (Photo courtesy of production)

Meet the stars of tomorrow in Jason Robert Brown's '13' on Netflix

Sophie Thomas
Sophie Thomas

For Broadway-loving teens in the late aughts, 13 was a defining musical. The preppy Jason Robert Brown musical follows Evan Goldman, a 13-year-old boy who makes a life-changing move to Indiana with his family just before his bar mitzvah.

Even though 13 only played for one season, the musical made Broadway stars out of Victorious's Elizabeth Gillies and Grammy-winning artist Ariana Grande — heard of her? It's now set to do the same for a new generation of performers, as a film adaptation of 13 comes to Netflix.

"Patrice was actually my top dream role for the longest time, and the fact that I get to play Patrice and be the voice of Patrice for a whole new generation is so amazing," said Gabrielle Uhl, who plays the female lead role. She's not the only theatre kid in the movie: 13 features a roster of young Broadway talent, film and TV actors, as well as performances by Josh Peck, Rhea Perlman, and Debra Messing.

Additionally, 13 has been updated for a 2022 world: a few new songs, courtesy of Jason Robert Brown, line changes to reflect a social media-fueled society, and girl-band choreography. The end result is pretty special.

Ahead of 13 premiering on Netflix, we chatted with co-stars Debra Messing, Eli Golden, Gabriella Uhl, JD McCrary, Frankie McNellis, Lindsey Blackwell, and Jonathan Lengel about appearing in the teen film, the chance to work with Jason Robert Brown, and their hopes and dreams for 13 years' time.

13 is on Netflix from August 12.

Although 13 only played for one Broadway season when many of the film's cast were toddlers, from 2008-2009, they still grew up watching the show in local and amateur productions.

"I knew a lot about 13, I'm a huge fan. I remember watching videos of 13 when it was on Broadway," said Frankie McNellis, who plays Lucy. She's not the only cast member who was influenced by the show at an early age.

"My older sister was in a production of 13 when she was 11 — I was six years old. I fell in love with 13 and I've been obsessed with the Broadway soundtrack," added Uhl. And even after starring in the 13 film and months in rehearsals, this cast can't help but listen to the Jason Robert Brown songs on repeat.

"A few weeks ago, I actually saw a production of it in my town," said Eli Golden, who plays Evan Goldman. "I've watched it a few times through different productions, but for the most part, I learned about it at theatre camp. It's an honour for me to play this role."

There's plenty of additions to the 13 film, though, notably in the form of three new songs. For Jonathan Lengel, who plays Archie, the opportunity to work with 13 composer Jason Robert Brown was a dream come true.

"It was pretty surreal for me as a vocalist and a musician, because one of my very first memories about getting to Toronto and rehearsing and filming was when we all got out of quarantine," he said. "We were in our sound booths wearing our masks, and right in front of us was Jason Robert Brown at the keyboard. We were learning his new music - basically every theatre kid's dream."

"Knowing that there was going to be an original song, and one of them being for [myself and Eli] to sing, that was one of the biggest things that drew me to this. It just felt like a privilege," said Debra Messing, who plays Jessica, Evan's mom.

Getting their heads around the three new songs wasn't an easy task, though. "No joke, I would come in and be like, 'What's the song?' because there were a few different revisions," explained Golden. "Jason asked me to try lines and I was like, 'What is that?'. And then he just said 'We're doing this.' The day after we're done, we did the soundtrack. I will say that it really worked."

Those new songs really are a fitting addition to the timeless family story. You'll need to listen out for Evan and Jessica's duet, a touching display of their mother-and-son relationship, toward the end of the film.

13 is also rare in that most of the cast are in their teens. "It felt like I had known everyone forever. I don't know what it was, but we clicked instantly. We were always laughing, giggling, and being teenagers," said Lindsey Blackwell, who plays Kendra.

"We all immediately clicked, it was so amazing. We always hung out off and on set and [during] our lunch breaks - we didn't take breaks from each other," continued McNellis.

You can definitely feel the buzzy teen camaraderie on screen. Every moment when the cast are in scenes together, they've all got huge smiles on their faces and clearly love what they're doing. You'll want to watch the Bloodmaster cinema scene with some particularly funny moments.

For Debra, as one of the only non-teenagers in the cast, 13 felt like a breath of fresh air. "I didn't know what to expect. I've never done this before," she confessed. "But I loved being the minority and I loved having this group of 12- and 13-year-olds together, becoming friends, watching them dance and clearly doing the thing that they were the most passionate about."

Even speaking to the cast in interviews, their joy for starring in 13 shines through. Talk to them about their favourite moments in the film, and they're smiling from ear to ear.

"The bar mitzvah scene in 'Brand New You' [is my favorite scene]," said Lengel. "Props to [choreographers] Jamal Sims and Nikki Anderson, they're just fabulous. The dancing was so intricate and so intense that you could just feel the ground shaking. It was so much fun to film."

For Lengel, starring in 13 also marks a pivotal moment in his career: he plays Archie, a character with muscular dystrophy. Netflix ensured that they would cast an actor with a disability for the role, and now Lengel finds himself representing a whole community.

"Growing up, I really didn't see anyone like me," shared Lengel. "I feel like everyone is going to be able to see a little bit of themselves in this movie. Netflix was really devoted to casting authentically and we are all just such a talented and diverse cast."

We're seeing this cast in 13 in 2022, but where can we expect to see them in 13 years' time? They're dreaming big, and they're the stars of tomorrow.

"I want to be doing a lot. I want to be a pop star, like touring the world doing movies, have an EGOT. I'm going to do it!" shouted McNellis.

JD McCrary, who plays Brett, has similar ambitions. "I want to have a Grammy, at least, like, four — I'm striving for greatness. I really want to be in an action movie, be Miles Morales or anybody like that."

Even though these teens are at the start of their career, they're all destined for big things. 13 is sure to inspire a generation of budding performers.

Photo credit: 13 the Musical (Photo courtesy of production)

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