Choreographer Jamal Sims, DP Adam Santelli, and casting directors Kristian Charbonier and Bernard Tesley helped director Tamra Davis realize her vision by adapting 13: The Musical from the Broadway stage to Netflix, where it is streaming now
Davis, who has directed more than 150 music videos and filmed episodes of Disney+’s High School Musical: The Musical, says she not only wanted to honor classic Broadway tropes, but also “to bring to the table all my knowledge of music videos and pop culture and which I think will appeal to modern kids.” She and Sims created high-energy numbers that reference classic musicals as well as TikTok trends in dance and camera moves.
13: The Musical is about Evan (Eli Golden), a New York boy deep in study for his bar mitzvah – and planning the party for it (he calls it the “Jewish Super Bowl”). But his parents are divorced and Mom (Debra Messing) decides that she and Eli should move back to their hometown in Indiana. There, Evan makes new friends and adapts to the Midwest. He even manages to throw a great bar mitzvah party.
The film begins with a song and dance through Manhattan before moving west as Evan sings about the fear of being 13. Along the way, he’s joined, Pied Piper-style, by a bevy of other teenagers who sing and dance through Manhattan’s Upper West Side as the Central Park number culminates in a tribute to the film “Hair.”
“New York already has a natural, upbeat pace — the cabs going by, the cars going by, the people going by. It already feels like a musical to me,” says Sims, who was inspired by his young cast to push the envelope. “They really brought their A game and they were so professional. And they were so down to try anything. I mean, we danced down some pretty steep hills in Central Park. Her ambition and drive really shows on camera.”
Sims had a four-week trial period with the cast before filming began. After New York, the production moved to Canada, substituting for Indiana.
In Canada, the casting team found talented local gymnastics clubs and dance groups to round out the extras, who all submitted audition videos. “They all came from the best dance academies, the best singers from all over Ontario,” says Davis. In one big number, “Opportunity,” Lucy (Frankie McNellis) sings in a variety of styles, including rapping backed by dancers and gymnasts, cheerleader routines, dance squad numbers, jazz routines and marching band -Drills are enough.
Sims says the cast were eager to try anything he threw at them. “They wanted to blow up, they wanted to fly, they wanted to roll over,” he says. “So we put everything in.”
Davis recorded the number with transitions and camera angles that mimic what kids see on TikTok, and even had a camera rig engineered to flip it on its side for a specific shot. All dance numbers were shot with two or three cameras. Sims took advantage of the environments available, including a school cafeteria, sports fields, and even a movie theater.
Golden marks that Sims played to the strengths of the various actors. He’s a good singer (he’s releasing an EP later this year) and says he’s not that experienced a dancer. “I can do things that people can’t do, but I can’t dance like some of my castmates, like JD [McCrary, as Brett]. He can dance so well – and I can’t do what he’s doing – but I can move to some extent.
And Jamal always made me relax and look at myself [the] the best I could.”
Inclusion was also important, not only in casting people of color but body types of all kinds, and one of the main characters, Archie, played by Jonathan Lengel, uses a wheelchair. It was great to see him moving and singing and dancing up there which is what so many people think [is] not really possible [for the differently abled]’ says Sims.
https://variety.com/2022/artisans/news/13-musical-jamal-sims-musical-1235341944/ ’13’ choreographer on Netflix musical’s blend of Broadway and hip-hop