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A CurtainUp Review
By Brad Bradley
As the house lights darken, we hear only a gently stirring violin. When the stage lights rise, the string player on our left is joined by a keyboardist on our right and between them, center stage, a drummer seated behind a familiar percussion setup, but elevated on a platform behind fiberglass. The background of the otherwise non-descript set seems to suggest either interconnected atoms, or possibly planets in the galaxy. Such visual simplicity is retained throughout this self-described "cross between a rock concert and a holiday show for people who usually don't like holiday shows."
Even before any characters are introduced or a story line is indicated, the show launches itself with a new age musical elegance. But to be fair, it soon displays driving elements of rock, rap, and even some suggestions of a serene church choir in this imaginative amalgam by a trio professionally known as Groovelily.
The first real tune of the program, "Snow Song: It's Comin' Down" is a tribute to the holiday season, and an acknowledgement that Striking 12 was born in a Texas summer while the creators were thinking of New York winters. After assorted bookings in other cities, the end-of-year engagement in the performers' home base city is entirely appropriate, for the story line concerns the holiday traumas that many folks suffer. In fact, the key character (Brendan Milburn, behind the electronic keyboard) is described as "The Man Who's Had Enough," while his primary contact as he suffers alone on New Year's Eve soon after a painful breakup is his friend Gene (Gene Lewin, at the drums) who via telephone tries to cajole him to join his party on the promise of some calendar girls known as "Brooklyn Babes with Biceps" among the guests. Our man is somewhat more responsive to a female stranger at his door (played by our violinist Valerie) who is sympathetic to those with "seasonal affective disorder" (aka the acronym SAD) and is decked out in a set of the full spectrum light bulbs she is promoting in her appeal for charity. However, after the cheery distraction of the illuminated lady, he still elects to stay home alone. His musical admission, "Red and Green (And I'm Feeling Blue)" is a fine resonant tune.
Valerie Vigoda, the lone female of the show, while very much an integrated part of the musical and acting trio, gets relative star treatment, as she prances and dashes about the stage, playing several characters along the way, while both of her colleagues are anchored to one spot and, for the most part, to one character each. She is remarkably charismatic and amusing as well. Even her electric violin's design is exciting; it almost seems airborne.
All three versatile performers (Valerie and Brendan also were in on the writing) work wonderfully together, and the fact that they play their own instruments while effectively portraying characters of course brings to mind the innovative work of John Doyle on Sondheim shows. The director steering this tidy ship is Ted Sperling and the magnetic connection of the show with the audience he achieves is enormous.
The sound of the music is mostly engaging, lovely, and never ear-shattering, quite a surprise in this day and age. A visual blessing is the absence of face mikes. How wonderful that Robert J. Killengerger, the sound designer, figured that one out. I must confess to finding a brief spot in mid-show that was shrill in both voice and instrumentation, but its correction may be just a matter of fine tuning the sound system to the acoustics of the enormous open space of the Daryl Roth Theatre. Even drummer Gene, while often soundings like a rapper in his songs, comes across with sound that is comfortable for ears of all ages.
Some may incorrectly imagine that this is a typical kids' show. After all, the premise includes what is described as a rewired version of "The Little Match Girl." In fact, Brendan reads aloud much of this tender but ultimately dark and disturbing tale by Hans Christian Andersen, the noted Danish storyteller. There's even an engaging song inspired by him, called "Screwed-up People Make Great Art." The tale is beautifully integrated into the contemporary fabric of our world. Yet, do not be deceived. This is not a show for small tots. If Santa is still in their Christmas dreams, perhaps they should not join this theatrical adventure. For all others, though, Striking 12 is a great entertainment to bring together the generations. The family friendly humor is varied and generous (much it is fairly sophisticated), and the music and message both are very accessible.
Easy-on-the budget super gift for yourself and your musical loving friends. Tons of gorgeous pictures.
Leonard Maltin's 2007 Movie Guide
At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2005 Movie Guide