I'm not sure how one comes up with the idea to write a pop-rock musical inspired by "The Little Match Girl" and its author Hans Christian Andersen, featuring a man disgruntled by the holidays in modern-day NYC. But that's exactly what Valerie Vigoda and Brendan Milburn from the band GrooveLily, along with Rachel Sheinkin, Tony-winning book writer of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, did, and it's such a bizarre idea that it actually works. This is the kind of inventive out-of-the-box thinking that music-theater needs. Striking 12 premiered Off-Broadway in 2006, and the creators have since written a few more musicals, all of which I now want to see (hint, hint, MMT!).
The narrative follows a man as he works late on New Year's Eve and heads home to his apartment alone, ignoring invites from his friends. His evening takes a turn when a young woman selling lights for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) knocks on his door and reminds him of "The Little Match Girl." He spends the rest of the evening reading the story, which plays out in scenes and songs as if he's seeing it in his head. In the Scrooge-like tale, the man has a change of heart and is inspired to connect with his fellow human beings (including maybe the SAD light seller) after experiencing the beautifully tragic story of "The Little Match Girl" (175-year old spoiler alert: she dies). Even as I write this it sounds weird, but trust me, the show brilliantly weaves together these disparate worlds and stories.
|photo by Unser Photography|
The show is performed with very little in the way of sets, allowing us to focus on the story and the imagery in the lyrics. In the empty performance thrust space at Gremlin, at the back of which the band is set up, a few black boxes with paint splatters are moved around in different formations as the only set pieces. Strings of Christmas lights hang overhead, dimming and brightening at appropriate moments. The cast is dressed in eclectic NYC grunge wear that's fun and funky. Even though it's a small room, the performers are miked to be heard over the rock band, but it's well done so that I could still hear individual voices coming from the performers, rather than all of the sound coming from the speakers. The choreography (by ensemble member Antonia Perez) fills the space without feeling crowded, and there are even some fun on-stage Foley sound effects, performed by ensemble member Charlie Morgan. (Scenic design by Dennis Joslyn, lighting design by Kurt Jung, costume design by Mandi Johnson, Audio Design by Forest Godfrey.)
Co-directed by Kari Steinbach and MMT's Artistic Director Joe Hendron, Striking 12 will make you laugh, tap your toes, and commiserate with the down side of the holiday season, while still warming your heart in the end, just not in an overly sappy way. Catch this unique sort-of holiday offering through December 18 only.
*Click here for reviews of all of the holiday shows I've seen this year.