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A CurtainUp Review
Striking 12

By Brad Bradley

The world looks like new
Or at least that's the view
From here.
— from "Snow Song". which can be heard at the show's website:
Valerie Vigoda
Striking 12 is that rare holiday show that is not only charming, funny, and great for the family, but also is an inventive and immensely rewarding minimalist variation on musical theater. Note that this is a minimalist musical in its best sense, in no way competing with the splashy extravaganzas at Radio City or Madison Square Garden.

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.

Book: Rachel Sheinkin, Brendan Milburn, Valerie Vigoda.
Music: Brendan Milburn & Valerie Vigoda.
Lyrics: Rachel Sheinkin, Brendan Milburn, Valerie Vigoda. Director: Ted Sperling
Cast: Gene Lewin (Party Host and others), Brendan Milburn (The Man Who's Had Enough) and Valerie Vigoda (Sad Light Seller and others).
Sets: David Korins
Costumes: Jennifer Caprio
Lights: Michael Gilliam
Sound: Robert J. Killengerger
Musicians: Groovelily (Valerie Vigoda,electric violin; Brendan Milburn, keyboards; Gene Lewin, drums)
Running Time: 90 minutes
From 11/6/06 to 12/31/06; opening November 12, 2006
Daryl Roth Theatre ,101 East 15th Street (Between Union Square East and Irving Place) 212/239-6200
From 11/6/06 to 12/31/06; opening November 12, 2006
Schedule varies.
Tickets: $35 to $100.
Reviewed by Brad Bradley on November 9th

Snow Song
Last Day of the Year
The Sales Pitch
Red and Green (And I'm Feeling Blue)
Matches for Sale
Say What?
Hey La La / Fine Fine Fine
Can't Go Home
Give the Drummer Some
Picture This
Caution to the Wind
Screwed-Up People Make Great Art
It's Not All Right
Wonderful (Reprise)
Picture This / Snow Song (Reprise)

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