new-picThe young cast of ’13’ really rocked on opening night, receiving a huge ovation from an enthusiastic audience.

THE award-winning Wonthaggi Theatrical Group has another hit musical on its hands. After producing the state’s best musical in 2011, Cabaret, and Gippsland’s best production in 2012, Anything Goes, the company opted for the numerically relevant butĀ little-known rock musical ’13’ in 2013. And what a show it turned out to be when it opened last Saturday night before an enthusiastic audience in a packed Wonthaggi Union Community Arts Centre. From the moment the production opened in a blaze of colour and movement, with all 39 teenagers in the cast on stage singing and dancing to the first number ‘Thirteen’, they had them enthralled. And the pace didn’t slacken from there. A tight band led by musical director Leigh Owens on guitar, Scott Hogan on drums and Chris Grimmond on keyboards also featured plenty of emerging talent including Year 9 pianist from Mary Mackillop College Jake Amy, bass guitarist Jay Dockery and guitarists Aiden Moresco, Archie Leggett and Travis Chapman. They took to the challenging, modern score with skill and enthusiasm and their efforts set the mood for a vibrant, engaging and highly entertaining show. Thirteen had many highlights from its young stars including Adam Turner as Evan, the 12 year old, turning 13 Jewish boy who’s desperate to be popular in his new town; Meg Jinnette (Patrice), Nick Lawson (Archie), Ellie Connell (Lucy), Fergus McKitterick (Brett) and Janie Gordon (Kendra); to the courageous use of lighting and the sensational choreography by Bron Kalos… it is a ‘must see’ show. There is absolutely no doubt that it will appeal to the region’s teenagers with its great music, modern themes and fun story line but adults too will find the music highly accessible and the teenagers’ predicaments all too familiar. It’s not surprising that the themes of the production should still be so relevant today because 13 is a musical of the modern era, being produced for the first time in 2007 and only arriving on Broadway in 2008. It has only rarely been seen in Australia since then but one wonders why as it is a production to rival the best-known musical of the genre, Grease. The story is about a 12 and a half year old Jewish boy, Evan, whose parents get divorced and his life is turned upside down as he moves to Appleton Indiana from New York with his mum. With his life-defining moment looming, his Bar Mitzvah, Evan is desperate to get in with the in-crowd in his new town so that they’ll all come to the big event and ensure its success. But difficulties with relationships intervene and Evan and his new chums are left to ponder ‘What it means to be a Friend’. Mary Mackillop student, Adam Turner, is cast superbly in the lead role and he brings his considerable experience to bear with an engaging, energetic and most of all believable performance. Ellie Connell from Wonthaggi Secondary College belies the fact that this is her first show, let alone leading role, to turn in a stunning performance as ‘Lucy’, the manipulative friend of ‘Kendra’, played by Janie Gordon who stepped up strongly from an ensemble part in Lyric’s Narnia. Nick Lawson, who many will remember as a young, curly-headed Oliver with WTG several years ago, is a stand-out as the crippled local boy, ‘Archie’, while Meg Jinnette and Fergus McKittrick are equally strong and well-prepared for their lead roles. They didn’t miss a beat and clearly had a ball doing it. Those with minor roles all establish their characters from the outset including Stephen Loftus with his superb dancing and singing, Kieran Lewis, the youngest member of the cast who has several stand-out moments, Noah Lugt-Cole (who was Joseph in Newhaven College’s recent production), Tom Barker, Jaz Hendry, Maria-Rosa Gatto, Molly Cargill… the list goes on. There are plenty of riveting scenes with the Appleton Cinema piece and musical number ‘Any Minute’ memorable, the innovative lighting used in the mobile phone scene ‘It Can’t be True’ leaving a big impression and the closing numbers featuring the top-draw choreography of Bron Kalos and the choral work inspired by Kirk Skinner front and centre. It’s a fantastic show and quite a departure in its staging for WTG with the company taking the use of modern lighting to a whole new, if a little scary, level to produce a great piece of theatre. The costumes by Louise Adkins and her team, the setting elements by Tad Hendry and Mungo Trumble, the lighting by Trevor Wyhoon and Ewan Cole and all the backstage work contributed to a wonderful production that must be seen to be fully appreciated. And something different from Wonthaggi Theatrical Group, the production runs straight through from 7.30pm to 9.30pm without a break for intermission. “There simply isn’t a good place to stop the action,” said director Karen Milkins-Hendry after a fantastic opening weekend. Book your tickets now at the Wonthaggi Workmen’s Club to avoid disappointment.