Pop Culture

13 Was a Surprising Incubator for Talented Tots

You never know where you’ll find the stars of tomorrow. On Friday, Netflix is placing a bet on a bevy of youngsters when it releases its latest film, 13: The Musical, which has a cast largely made up of relatively unknown child actors (as well as pros Josh Peck and Debra Messing). It’s adapted from 13, which opened in Broadway in 2008, and followed the trials and tribulations of young Evan Goldman, an adolescent boy who moves from NYC to small-town Indiana right before his bar mitzvah. 

With catchy music and lyrics by Tony-winner composer Jason Robert Brown and a sweet book by Dan Elish and Robert Horn, 13 was a little gem that made history as the first show on Broadway with an all-teenage cast and band. But despite its novel concept, 13 only ran for four short months, opening on Broadway in October of 2008 and closing in January of the following year. Despite its relatively short run, 13 served as a breeding ground for talent. Future stars of stage and screen Tinashe, Elizabeth Gillies, and Ariana Grande all got their start in its cast. As a new crop of youngsters get ready to breathe new life into the musical, here’s a guide to show where some of the original cast of 13 are now. 

Ariana Grande

Have you heard of her? Undoubtedly the most famous of the 13 crew, Grande was just a 15-year-old girl from Boca Raton, Florida, who had played Annie at Fort Lauderdale Children’s Theater when she was cast in the Broadway production as Charlotte and the understudy for the female lead, Patrice. (Remember that next time you get upset that you’re watching an understudy.) After the show closed, Grande was quickly scooped up by Nickelodeon. She starred on Victorious as Cat Valentine and then on the one-season spin-off Sam and Cat with Jennette McCurdy before recording music of her own and, well, the rest is history. Despite becoming a Grammy-winning international pop sensation, Grande has stayed relatively close with her 13 family. She’s still BFFs with theater director Aaron Simon Gross, who played wheelchair user Evan in 13 and participated in Grande’s intimate wedding to Dalton Gomez.

Need further proof that the 13 waters run deep? Grande has invited composer and lyricist Jason Robert Brown to accompany her for various performances and even co-wrote a song with him, “Jason’s Song (Gave It Away),” which was featured on her album Dangerous Woman. And if you still don’t believe that Grande’s a Broadway baby at heart, look no further than her recent casting as Glinda the Good Witch in the forthcoming two-part Wicked movie opposite Cynthia Erivo’s Elphaba. Grande is proof that you can take the pop star off Broadway, but you can’t take the Broadway out of the pop star. 

Liz Gillies

Grande wasn’t the only cast member to jump from stage to Nickelodeon. Liz Gillies played manipulative popular girl Lucy in the Broadway production of 13 and, like Grande, went on to star on Victorious soon after 13 closed. Gillies played Jade West, another mean girl who attends a performing arts high school with Grande and VictoriaI think we all singJustice. Although her Nickelodeon days may be far behind her, Gillies still has a penchant for playing bad girls: She’s anchored The CW’s 2017 Dynasty reboot as Fallon Carrington for five seasons. Since Dynasty ended, Gillies has carved out a niche for herself in the Seth MacFarlane universe, voicing the character of Alana in the Family Guy episode “All About Alana” as well as appearing on MacFarlane’s sci-fi comedy The Orville as Dinal in the past year.

She also seems quite close with Grande to this day, popping up to sing the duet “Give It Up” from Victorious during Grande’s Sweetener world tour in 2019 and also appearing in Grande’s “thank u, next” music video. 

Graham Phillips 

The male lead of 13 (and Ariana Grande’s boyfriend at the time), Phillips anchored the musical playing central bar mitzvah boy Evan Goldman. After 13, Phillips booked the plum role on CBS’s The Good Wife, starring as Zach Florrick, teenage son of Alicia Florrick (Julianne Margulies). He remained on the legal drama for four seasons, earning three SAG nominations for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series along with the rest of the principal cast. He graduated from Princeton University in 2017, and subsequently followed in the footsteps of former cast mate Gillies, heading to The CW to star as Nick St. Clair in season two of Riverdale. But make no mistake: Despite not returning to Broadway since 13, Phillips still has a song in his heart. It was on full display when he played Prince Eric in NBC’s The Little Mermaid Live! opposite Auli‘i Cravalho’s Ariel and Queen Latifah’s Ursula.

Charlie Rosen

13 wasn’t just an incubator for talent in the cast: Even its band was filled with preternaturally talented kids. Look no further than Rosen, who was the original production’s swing bass, guitar, and percussion player. He’s now one of Broadway’s most in-demand musicians, orchestrators, and arrangers, working on productions like American Psycho, Be More Chill, and most recently the Tony award–winning A Strange Loop. Rosen is no stranger to awards: He won a Tony himself in 2020 for orchestrating Moulin Rouge!, and won a Grammy this year for Best Arrangement, Instrumental or A Cappella for arranging the composition “Meta Knight’s Revenge” for the Nintendo video game Kirby Super Star.

Eric Nelsen

Speaking of awards, Eric Nelsen knows a thing or two about them. After starring as cool kid Brett Sampson in 13 on Broadway, Eric kept acting and moved into the soap opera space, producing and starring on the digital drama series The Bay on Amazon Prime. In 2015, he became the youngest producer in history to win an Emmy, taking home a daytime trophy in the now defunct category of Outstanding New Approaches Drama Series at the age of 23. Since then, Nelsen has won three more daytime Emmys in categories that still exist: two for Outstanding Digital Daytime Drama Series and one for outstanding supporting actor in a digital daytime drama series. Even though he’s been raking up daytime Emmys, Nelsen has kept some roots in the Broadway community as well, winning a Tony in 2021 for being a member of the producing team of that year’s best play, The Inheritance.

Allie Trimm

Allie Trimm is more than Ariana Grande’s overstudy. Trimm played Patrice—the female lead of 13, and the part Grande famously understudied—and went on to star in another Broadway show with starry cast members. In 2009, she played Kim in the Broadway revival of Bye Bye Birdie starring John Stamos and Gina Gershon. (The cast also featured her 13 costar Brynn Williams.) Trimm went on to attend Stanford University, and has appeared in film and television projects including The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and the Hallmark Channel original movie Next Stop, Christmas. Coincidentally enough, Trimm’s connection to Grande endures via another musical in which they’re both involved: Wicked. In 2021, Trimm was cast as Glinda’s understudy in Wicked on Broadway—the same part that her former understudy is playing in the upcoming film. The Patrice to Glinda pipeline is alive and well.

Tinashe 

Not every future starlet who got their start in 13 necessarily made it to the Broadway production. Singer-songwriter Tinashe (then Tinashe Kachingwe) played Cassie in the L.A. production of 13 at the Mark Taper Forum before the production transferred to Broadway. Although she didn’t make the trip from L.A. to New York, she’s done quite well. After going mononymous, Tinashe’s debut single “2 On,” featuring Schoolboy Q, peaked at number 24 on the Billboard Hot 100, and her debut album, Aquarius, also received critical acclaim. Since then she’s opened for Nicki Minaj and Katy Perry. In 2021, Tinashe was nominated for best new artist at the BET Awards. This summer she released the single “New to You” alongside Calvin Harris, Normani, and Offset for Harris’s album Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 2. 

So, will Netflix’s 13: The Musical produce more Tinashes or Arianas? Time will tell. 

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