Do you remember being 13? Life likely revolved around friends, frenemies, crushes and parties. Well in 13: The Musical, streaming now on Netflix, Evan Goldman navigates those things in a brand new city- with the added pressure of his Bar Mitzvah just around the corner.
About the movie:
After his parents’ divorce, Evan Goldman moves from NYC to small-town Indiana. As his 13th birthday nears, he must master the complex social circles of his new school and win friends by turning his Bar Mitzvah into the coolest party ever.
I recently had the chance to chat with Debra Messing, who Evan’s mom Jessica in the movie! Read on to find out more about her love of musical theater, how she relates to her character and Evan, and more!
It’s nice to see a movie for 13 year old kids that actually deals with what they’re dealing with. Do you have any sage advice for kids around this age group?
Debra: The thing I love about this movie is that I feel like it’s very honest about how difficult this transition is from being a little kid to being a teenager. It’s difficult for the kid and it’s difficult for the parent. It’s bumpy and it’s rocky.
I guess the advice I would give is just understand they’re doing the best they can. Also to really make it clear that the lines of communication are open all the time. Just to let them know that home is a safe space.
We’ve seen you in a number of movies and television shows- how is it different filming a musical?
Debra: I’ve always been a musical theater nerd. When I was on Smash I felt like I had the best role on the whole thing because all I did was sit at a table and watch really, really talented people sing and dance. So here I was doing the same thing- but with 12 and 13 year olds.
They were so naturally gifted and so exuberant- I mean the passion they had for singing and dancing was literally coming out of their pores. You could see that there was no other place on Earth that they wanted to be and it was just a really uplifting place to work. And to also recognize that in 10 years, all of these kids are going to be on Broadway.
In the musical, we don’t actually see Evan’s mom. Did it make it more difficult not having source material to pull from or was it easier since you weren’t working in those parameters?
Debra: It was shocking to learn that the character didn’t exist in the Broadway play. That was the point, they wanted to expand the lens. The fact that there would be a new song, I felt a lot of responsibility because I knew they were changing this beloved musical that so many people love. Any change you can often be not a great thing for big fans, so I really was just wanting her addition to add something to the movie that made sense, without distracting from all the joy.
I felt some freedom because the character didn’t exist. I think I was able to have some faith because Robert Horne is such an amazing book writer. He called me- we had a two week lock-in when we got to Toronto and he called and was like, let’s go through the movie, let’s go through the lines and see if you have any thoughts and I thought that was incredibly generous. We came up with some new funny stuff.
What are some parallels between the character Jessica and yourself that you loved exploring?
Debra: First of all, I’m a divorced woman, a single mom of 1 lone boy from New York City, who grew up in Rhode Island next to a farm- and was one of three Jewish kids in my whole community. So I saw myself in Evan.
I understood the experience of being “other” at that age and just desperately wanting to fit in and feeling like people don’t understand. I think that the writing between the mother and son was really honest.I love the fact that it’s through the boy’s eyes- so much of the time in these movies about high school it’s the girls who are struggling.
It was very meaningful to me to see my culture- to see a Jewish family, a story about a family. I can’t remember another movie about a Jewish family. With all the anti-Semitism- and it’s just getting worse- it’s really important to show up. Then they make sort of weird guesses about what being a Jew is, and it’s funny, but by the end they teach each other, and they’re changed from each other. At the end, everybody is welcome, everybody is dancing together and so I think that that really was the most important thing to me.
What do you hope kids take away after watching this movie?
Debra: I guess I I hope kids can watch and recognize that they’re not alone. Whatever struggles they’re going through or questions they have about themselves. it is the norm for this time in a kid’s development. Also to learn how to be forgiving of yourself, because everybody makes mistakes. Adults make mistakes and a mistake isn’t a failure, it’s a lesson and you can choose to be defeated by it, or you can choose to be better and to make a better choice the next time.
13: The Musical is streaming NOW on Netflix! It’s a very kid-appropriate movie that the whole family can enjoy, with an amazing soundtrack and a lot of social learning opportunities! The cast is amazing and you’ll find yourself humming the tunes for days. You can watch it right here!