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"13," The Musical That Kicked Off Ariana Grande’s Career, Is Now A Netflix Movie
"13" debuts on Netflix Aug. 12.

Photo: Courtesy of Alan Markfield for Netflix

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"13," The Musical That Kicked Off Ariana Grande’s Career, Is Now A Netflix Movie

Composer Jason Robert Brown discusses working with Ariana Grande on "13: The Musical" and the importance of writing a "bop" that reflects your characters.

GRAMMYs/Aug 11, 2022 - 03:45 pm

Before she was a pop sensation, Ariana Grande made her Broadway debut in "13: The Musical." She was one of thirteen kids in the Broadway show that ran for only a few short months in 2008. The show has since been turned into a movie musical made for Netflix – which begins streaming Aug. 12.

"She was as gifted a singer at 14 years old as she is now," the musical’s composer and three-time Tony Award winner, Jason Robert Brown tells GRAMMY.com. Brown believes Grande was always destined to be a star, but he does feel like he’s been part of the talent development for the many teenagers who’ve starred in the show over the years. "They learn something about how they want to perform from it and it directs them forward," he explains.

The Netflix adaptation stars Eli Golden, as Evan, a Jewish 12-year-old who moves to a small, non-Jewish town in Indiana right as he’s about to become a Bar Mitzvah. He tries to make new friends so they will all come to his party. Debra Messing plays his mother and the pair share a poignant duet called "It Would Be Funny," one of three new songs Brown wrote for the film.

It’s been a busy year for Brown whose new musical, "Mr. Saturday Night" (based on the 1992 Billy Crystal movie of the same name), opened on Broadway also starring Billy Crystal. He is preparing for the highly anticipated New York City production of his musical "Parade" (in which he won a 1999 Tony Award for Best Score) starring Ben Platt ("Dear Evan Hansen") and Micaela Diamond ("The Cher Show"). He’s also written the music for "The Last Five Years" and "Honeymoon in Vegas."

GRAMMY.com spoke with Jason Robert Brown all about bringing 13 to Netflix, writing a new song for the film inspired by Grease and one of his favorite memories of working with Ariana Grande that you can hear on the cast album.

What was it like revisiting the show? 

I haven't stopped revisiting the show since [book writer Robert Horn and I] wrote it. We did it originally at the Paper Mill [Playhouse in New Jersey] in 2006. Then we did it at Goodspeed [in Connecticut] in 2007. We did it on Broadway in 2008. I did a new version in London in which I directed. That has been the version that has been out in the world since.

In all of that time, Robert Horn and I were always working on what's a possible idea for how this could be a movie. We had written several versions of a screenplay before Netflix even came to us. 13 was always a show that we always knew we were gonna have to keep coming back to.

You always have to keep your eye on anything that's a contemporary story so it doesn't get dated. There was a lot in the original draft that was of its moment, but does not feel of its moment anymore. Teenagers are different than they were in 2008. It's always fun to come back to the show, because I love these characters and I love this material. But it's always a challenge to find out how to make it say what it has to say in slightly different ways.

Tell me about writing three new songs and why you wrote them. 

I wrote new songs for a bunch of different reasons. The story of the movie is different than the story of the [Broadway] show. There were some things that happened in the show that had all these great songs attached to them. When we got to [working on] the movie, those songs don't make any sense anymore.

So when we lost some of those songs, we had to come up with new ones. When Evan first gets to school, we had an opportunity to introduce the kids in the town in a much better way. I got to write this really great song for Brett (the head of the football team played by JD McCrary,) and for Kendra (the head cheerleader played by Lindsey Blackwell), called "I've Been Waiting" and it talks about their dilemma which is how they've been waiting all summer to get together.

It reminded me of "Summer Nights" from Grease. 

That was certainly a model in a lot of ways. "Summer Nights" is the two lead characters talking about what they've done all summer to their respective crowds. Without us doing it intentionally, that was exactly the same position that this song was going to be in. Why run away from it?

It was also an opportunity to say, alright, what is the music that these kids sing? The music I wrote for them to sing in 2008 sounded like 2008 music. I thought let's get closer to what they sing now. I got to write what my daughter calls a "bop." When I was working on the movie, [my daughters were] 15 and 11. I showed them everything that was new and got their reactions. I didn't always listen to them, but I did my best to watch their eyes and see how they responded to material.

How did you get Debra Messing, who plays Evan’s mother, to sing in the movie? 

The show on Broadway had no adults in it. For the movie, that wouldn't make any sense. So we put in the parents: Evan’s mother, his father and his grandmother. His mother is played by Debra Messing who, on top of being an extraordinary comedian, is a great singer. The whole point of having Debra Messing in the movie is she should have a moment. So I got to write a song for her and her son to sing. I don't think Debra would have been interested in doing the movie musical if she didn't get to sing.

Getting her to sing the song was the easy part. It was really this great give and take about her ideas about being a mother. [In real life] she is a divorced mom [like in the movie] with kids who are almost exactly Evan’s age. So she had a lot to say about what that experience was. Obviously all the other songs are just kids singing. It was just nice to have a second where the grown up had a little perspective to offer.

What stood out to you about Eli Golden, who plays Evan? 

For me, it was very important that the Jewish characters be played by Jewish actors. There’s an idea that anyone can play Jewish – it's not a race. I don't think that's true. I've seen a lot of Jewish characters played in ways that feel inauthentic. So much of the movie depends on the fact that there is one Jewish kid in the middle of a town of non-Jewish kids. It is important he feels like an outsider and like he doesn't entirely belong.

To have Debra, Rhea Perlman (Evan’s grandmother), Peter Hermann (Evan’s dad), Josh Peck (Evan’s Rabbi), and Eli all be Jewish centers their experience in a very specific way. I wanted to make sure that the Jewish experience was not being portrayed in a way where it was played for laughs. What was wonderful about Eli is he is a New York Jewish kid and he brings that energy to it. At the same time, there's something that is so charming and approachable about him.

What do you remember about Ariana Grande’s audition and casting her in the show? 

She sang Mariah Carey. She opened her mouth and we said "we have cast her." She was always an extraordinarily talented creature. So many of those kids in that original company were. Not only did Ariana bring it, but it happened so many times during the casting of this movie.

I don't take too much credit for Ariana because she was going to be famous no matter what happened. I do feel like we got to give her this little showcase where the world got to see her for the first time.

Any favorite memories from working on the music with her back then in 2008? 

If you listen to the opening number in the original cast album there are a series of four solo riffs that each of the kids do at the end of the song. The kids made those up themselves. And the way that it all worked was that I took all 13 kids in the company around the piano and I just kept playing those four measures of music over and over again. I would point to them and I would say sing your riff.

I got to Ariana and she sang this sort of perfect Whitney Houston riff right at the end of the song. It was amazing. What I remember specifically as she sang it was everybody just started laughing because we were all like well we can stop doing this now. We know what one of the riffs is going to be.

Do you stay in touch? I know you did a concert in 2020 with her on Zoom, which I watched. But does she consult with you at all?

She doesn't need to consult with me. We're friends. So every once in a while we text each other and we check in. We usually are talking about our experience doing 13. She's still very close with Liz Gillies, Aaron Simon Gross and Graham Phillips. There are times where, at midnight, suddenly I'll get a group text from all four of them because they're all hanging out together in Los Angeles singing all the songs from the show. That happens much more often than you would imagine.

Now you have a new generation of teens who could become the next Ariana Grande.

What I'm really excited about is that this has the opportunity to inspire this whole other generation of kids. The show was on Broadway 14 years ago; it certainly didn't change the world when it opened. I’m so honored and thrilled that all these years later, it's still making a mark on this generation. It's sort of so weird, but it's really exciting. And I think the movie is designed so well to talk to kids of this generation.

You have "Mr. Saturday Night" on Broadway right now and soon "Parade" at New York City Center.

The real thrill is that Ben Platt really wanted to do it. He has always loved the show and he really wanted to find a way to do the part. For several years now, he's been working with [director] Michael Arden trying to figure out a way to get it up on stage. It's this fantastic opportunity to revisit that piece which I love so much.

One of the tricks of "Parade" is that it's a big show and it was designed to be big. So, it's probably too expensive to do a traditional Broadway revival. The great thing about doing it at City Center is we can do it with the full cast and the full orchestra and really give it its due. It's a piece that means so much to me and to my family. It means so much to be able to remember [its director] Hal [Prince] and memorialize the work that we all did together.

Everyone on Twitter wants to see this back on Broadway so everyone is hoping it transfers like "Into The Woods" just did.

That would be totally fine by me.

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WATCH: Lady Gaga And Ariana Grande Team Up For "Rain On Me"

Lady Gaga 

Photo: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Haus Laboratories

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WATCH: Lady Gaga And Ariana Grande Team Up For "Rain On Me"

Grande enters the "Stupid Love" singer's futuristic world as the two pop sensations dance together in an out-of-this-planet setting

GRAMMYs/May 22, 2020 - 10:17 pm

Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande have come together for "Rain On Me," an optimistic pop track about Gaga's personal experiences off her forthcoming album, Chromatica

"I can feel it on my skin (It's comin' down on me)/ Teardrops on my face (Water like misery)/ Let it wash away my sins (It's coming down on me)," the global pop stars sing together on the chorus. "I'd rather be dry, but at least I'm alive/ Rain on me, rain, rain."

The song is an empowering track about being comfortable with letting tears fall. Gaga revealed the many layers behind the song in an interview with Vulture, sharing that some of the inspiration for it came from her relationship with drinking. "This is about an analog of tears being the rain. And you know what it’s also a metaphor for, is the amount of drinking that I was doing to numb myself," she said. "I’d rather be dry. I’d rather not be drinking, but I haven’t died yet. I’m still alive. Rain on me."

She added that the song also went beyond that. "Okay, I’m going to keep on drinking. This song has many layers," she said. 

Grande enters the "Stupid Love" singer's futuristic world in the video released Friday, May 22, with the two dancing together in an out-of-this-planet setting. The video ends with them in a strong embrace.

Gaga has shared how much the collaboration with Grande means to her and thanked Grande for "reminding me I’m strong."  Before the video's release, she tweeted out a special message to the "Stuck with U" singer. 

"One time I felt like I was crying so much it would never stop. Instead of fighting it, I thought bring it on, I can do hard things. @arianagrande I love you for your strength and friendship. Let’s show them what we’ve got," she tweeted

Grande returned the love with more love, revealing what sharing a track with Gaga means to her.

"one time ..... i met a woman who knew pain the same way i did... who cried as much as i did, drank as much wine as i did, ate as much pasta as i did and who’s heart was bigger than her whole body. she immediately felt like a sister to me," she tweeted. "she then held my hand and invited me into the beautiful world of chromatica and together, we got to express how beautiful and healing it feels to mothafuckinnnn cry ! i hope this makes u all feel as uplifted as it does for us both. i love u @ladygaga , u stunning superwoman !"  

Watch the full video above. Chromatica is set to be released on May 29. 

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Ariana Grande Donates Proceeds From Atlanta Show To Planned Parenthood

Ariana Grande

Photo: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images

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Ariana Grande Donates Proceeds From Atlanta Show To Planned Parenthood

"Ariana Grande's generous donation comes at a critical time—in Georgia and across the country, anti-women's health politicians are trying to ban all safe, legal abortion," Dr. Leana Wen, President of Planned Parenthood, said in a statement

GRAMMYs/Jun 12, 2019 - 10:56 pm

Today, Planned Parenthood confirmed that GRAMMY winner Ariana Grande has donated the proceeds from her June 8 concert in Atlanta, around $250,000, to the reproductive health non-profit. The contribution follows several Southern states, including Georgia, passing restrictive anti-abortion bills in May.

"Ariana Grande's generous donation comes at a critical time—in Georgia and across the country, anti-women's health politicians are trying to ban all safe, legal abortion," Dr. Leana Wen, President of Planned Parenthood, said in a statement to People, who broke the news. 

Wen, who is a medical doctor and the former Baltimore City Health Commissioner, spoke to the critical timing of Grande's donation, at a time when lawmakers are rolling back years of women's rights legislation:

"This is not what the American people want, nor is it something they'll stand for. Thanks to inspiring support like hers, Planned Parenthood can continue to fight back—in the courts, in Congress, in state houses, and in the streets—against these dangerous attacks on people's health and lives. We are so grateful to Ariana for her longstanding commitment to supporting women's rights and standing with Planned Parenthood to defend access to reproductive health care. We won't stop fighting—no matter what."

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As People and other outlets point out, the donation follows the singer's response to hate speech made outside of the Atlanta concert. Ari fans tweeted a video of a protester outside of the venue making homophobic, sexist and racist comments over a P.A. system to the young women. Grande commented on the post, writing: "man... saddened but not surprised by this one bit. I'm so sorry any of my fans had to encounter this. we will do our best to ensure this doesn't happen again. proud of u all for not fighting / engaging violently. never worth it. wishing him peace & a healed heart cause girl yikes."

The Atlanta show was one of the stops on the pop star's Sweetener World Tour, which continues across North America until mid-July, after which she'll headline Lollapalooza on Aug. 4, then take the tour across the pond to London on Aug. 17 for its European leg.

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Ariana Grande To Perform At 2020 GRAMMY Awards On Jan. 26

Ariana Grande

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Ariana Grande To Perform At 2020 GRAMMY Awards On Jan. 26

Music's Biggest Night goes Grande, adding the GRAMMY winner and current nominee to a growing list of performers

GRAMMYs/Jan 12, 2020 - 12:37 am

Big news for Arianators: Ariana Grande took to social media to announce she'll be performing at the 62nd GRAMMY Awards on Jan. 26 live from Los Angeles!

The GRAMMY winner is nominated in five categories this year, including Album Of The Year and Best Pop Vocal Album for thank you, next. Record Of The Year and Best Pop Solo Performance for "7 Rings" and Best Pop Duo/Group Performance for "Boyfriend" with Social House.

Grande joins previously announced performers AerosmithBillie EilishLizzoBlake Shelton and Gwen Stefani, plus host Alicia Keys, who will be returning for her second straight year as master of ceremonies for Music's Biggest Night.

Keep up to date on all the latest performers, presenters and host news here, and be sure to tune in to the 62nd GRAMMY Awards on Sunday, Jan. 26, 2020, and broadcasting live on CBS at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT.

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Sam Smith Sings "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" in 2014
Sam Smith

Photo: Recording Academy

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Sam Smith Sings "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" in 2014

In this performance from The Recording Academy vault, GRAMMY winner Sam Smith sings on the CBS special "A Very GRAMMY Christmas"

GRAMMYs/Dec 21, 2018 - 10:04 pm

In 2014 the CBS special "A Very GRAMMY Christmas" was broadcast on Dec. 5, the day nominations were announced for the 57th GRAMMY Awards. In addition to Sam Smith singing "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas," other performers included Ariana Grande, Maroon 5, Tim McGraw and Pharrell Williams. The final nominations for Album Of The Year were also revealed on air.

Later that year, on Feb. 8, 2015 at the 57th GRAMMY Awards broadcast, Smith won Best New Artist, Best Pop Vocal Album for In The Lonely Hour, and his "Stay With Me (Darkchild Version)" won Record Of The Year and Song Of The Year. Smith also performed "Stay With Me" during the awards celebration with Mary J. Blige.

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