Maine premiere of this new holiday musical from the group Groove Lily and the book writer of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. Loosely based on Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Match Girl, STRIKING 12 is a fun, funny and upbeat holiday show featuring an incredible score and a dozen cast members/musicians.
STRIKING 12 is a perfect alternative to standard holiday fare while still being family-friendly. On New Year's Eve, an over-worked and under-inspired single guy who's had enough of holiday cheer makes a resolution: to stay home and go to bed early. On another New Year's Eve, a continent away—and more than a century earlier—Hans Christian Andersen's Little Match Girl tries unsuccessfully to sell her matches in the snow.
The two stories are brought together when a young woman selling special "full-spectrum holiday light bulbs" to combat Seasonal Affective Disorder shows up at the grumpy man's door. Though the man (who probably could use the bulbs) seems to enjoy the young woman's company, he sends her away. It's not until he reads The Little Match Girl that he is finally pulled out of his funk.
All of this unfolds through a tuneful pop/rock/jazz score that retains the vibrant style of its original performers: the celebrated band, GrooveLily. The witty and deeply moving script weaves three stories and settings: contemporary New York City, 19th century Denmark, and the very room in which the show is presented. Through simple, unpretentious theater created through the voices and instruments of the performers, Striking 12 reminds us that "the world looks like new... on the first day of the year."
STRIKING 12 is indeed a holiday show that has more heart and fun than most of the manufactured entertainments competing for your consumer dollars.” - Frank Scheck, The New York Post
“…this modest show is more artfully crafted and engaging than virtually all the standard-mold musicals coming our way these days…The most important ingredient for a successful musical, it has long been acknowledged, is a first-rate score, and this one is terrific. The lyrics are alive with wit and humor, and they don’t shy away from surging emotion either.” - Charles Isherwood, The New York Times
‘STRIKING 12’ LIFTS SPIRITS: GOOD THEATER GIVES US REASON TO KEEP THE HAPPY LIGHTS ON
Portland Press Herald, By Steve Feeney 11/15/2012
Departing from its usual holiday concert of Broadway tunes, Good Theater this year has opened the festive season with the Maine premiere of a "hybrid concert/musical" called "Striking 12." With five instrumentalists at center stage throughout, the songs are still the main focus. But this show's imaginative storytelling ties it all together with a flowing ribbon of theatrical fun.
Loosely based on Hans Christian Andersen's "The Little Match Girl," writer/composers Brendan Milburn, Rachel Sheinkin and Valerie Vigoda updated and lightened the classic story by adding cheeky tunes, inside-joke comedy and certainly more earthly uplift than the 19th-century tale provided.
The Match Girl in this show is a seller of light bulbs designed to help those with Seasonal Affective Disorder, the affliction that can cause depression in folks during the diminished daylight of the winter months. There's a nice bit near the end of the show about why, in today's world, people can't just be plain old sad.
In any event, the story wraps up nicely with the Light Bulb Girl and her lonely customer finding that things can be "Wonderful."
Local stalwart Kelly Caufield takes the female lead and runs with it, selling not only light bulbs but several big numbers with a fine voice and effective stage presence. She flips with ease through the multiple levels of theatrical intensity called for from this overall light but still sophisticated show.
Broadway veteran Ryan Duncan plays the guy she wins over, after a trip back through the original Andersen text. An excellent voice and comic sense made Duncan a pleasure to see up close in the intimate St. Lawrence Theater space. Unlike some visitors to the provinces, he did not play above the material – and not only because the material was first-rate.
Erik Moody, Marie Dittmer, Samantha St. Onge and Andrew Sawyer round out the cast. Each has moments in the spotlight, with Moody particularly snazzy in the hilarious "Screwed-up People Make Great Art."
Heather Kahill was a solo standout on amplified violin at Thursday's show. She moved through a variety of genres, including rock, folk and jazz, adding textures and grit when not taking the lead.
Stephen Underwood and Victoria Stubbs provided vocal narration along with strong melody and counterpoint from their keyboards
This delightful show directed with a flowing and thoroughly engaging style by Brian P. Allen is a fun encouragement to keep your happy lights turned on during the upcoming holiday season.
‘STRIKING 12’... TOP CHOICE(S) THIS WEEK IN THE PERFORMING ARTS
The Forecaster, by Scott Andrews, 11/19/2012
“Striking 12” is a clever and tuneful re-imagining of a classic tale by Hans Christian Andersen. “Striking 12” is more than totally out-of-the-box; it’s strikingly good.
“Does anybody need some light tonight?” is the poignant and plaintive refrain of Hans Christian Andersen’s classic tragic character, “The Little Match Girl.” Her cry also serves as the thematic undercurrent of “Striking 12,” the wonderful Off-Broadway musical by Good Theater that’s selling out Portland’s St. Lawrence Arts Center. It’s a Maine premiere that belongs on your must-do list.
“Striking 12” is a brilliant reworking of Andersen’s 19th-century tale, cleverly updated to 21st-century America and given a tuneful and contemporary musical twist by the creative team of Brendan Milburn, Rachel Sheinkin and Valerie Vigoda.
The team has worked all sorts of thespian gimmicks into “Striking 12.” Its basic conceit involves temporal legerdemain that crisscrosses centuries and continents and includes a play within a play and breaking the “fourth wall.” Gimmick-laden shows don’t usually impress me, but this one really works brilliantly.
The central character is The Man (Ryan Duncan), a 30-something bachelor business executive who has had his fill of false holiday cheer and vows to spend New Year’s Eve alone. Shortly after retiring to his apartment, he is visited by a 21st-century version of The Little Match Girl (Kelly Caufield). Soon the original character appears, wandering the streets of Copenhagen in the 1830s. The two tales intertwine through story, song and dance and the result is theatrical magic.
Six actors and five musicians – grouped in the center of the stage – combine forces for this fully professional production, helmed by Good Theater co-founder and artistic director, Brian P. Allen.
“Does anybody need some light tonight?” Good Theater’s production gives a resounding and brilliant “yes” to this question.
"wonderful…a tuneful and contemporary musical...a brilliant reworking of Andersen’s 19th-century tale…the result is theatrical magic…it's striking good."
NO HUMBUG HERE, BUT A GOOD HARRUMPH WILL DO!
The Portland Phoenix, By Megan Grumbling, 11/28/2012
The singer Phoebe Snow has a great wry line about our next major secular holiday: "December 31st is the very worst time of the year. You have to find people that you like enough to share your beer." It's a sentiment that the protagonist of Striking 12, a morose young New Yorker referred to as The Man (Ryan Duncan), would agree with. As his friends and officemates plan parties for the big night, he plans to stay in and nurse a beer alone. That is, until a young woman (Kelly Caufield) knocks on his door selling strands of "full-spectrum holiday light bulbs." She spurs him to rediscover the Hans Christian Andersen story of "The Little Match Girl," and ultimately his holiday goodwill, in the Maine premiere of this yuletide theater alternative. Striking 12 is an upbeat, refreshingly low-frills musical ensemble show — a "holiday non-spectacular non-extravaganza" — under the direction of Brian P. Allen, for the Good Theater.
"Non-spectacular" means, among other things, no period petticoats or frock coats; all eleven performers wear sleek black- or gray-on-black, a good palette for both its primary setting, modern New York City, and its sub-setting, on the 19th-century Danish streets. Spatially, a sharp five-piece band (Stephen Underwood and Victoria Stubbs on keyboard, Bill Manning on percussion, John Lawson on bass and guitar, and Heather Kahill, beautifully, on violin) literally takes center stage. The actors (Erik Moody, Marie Dittmer, Samantha St. Onge, and Andrew Sawyer, all of whom are miked for singing), maneuver around them, interacting with them informally and in affectionately close quarters, and morphing nimbly between the voices in The Man's answering machine and TV, his co-workers, an ex, and the people one avoids at the more agonizing holiday parties.
As the New Year's dissident himself, Duncan (a guest artist from New York City) is sympathetic, blessedly subtle and self-deprecating in expressing his funk, and he has a pleasant conversational ease in his musical phrasing. As his light-offering catalyst (and her Danish counterpart), Caufield has her usual luminous candor and exquisite, clarion voice. She creates beautiful and evocative moments of simple actions, as when her lightbulb seller delightedly leans back against a pole to watch the snow fall, and she also pulls out the emotional stops as she takes her characters to heights of desperation.
The rest of the cast has a lot of fun with their various roles, often to really funny effect. Particularly notable are the bitchery of St. Onge's Diane, The Man's ex, phoning him to forbid his presence at a certain party; Dittmer's intolerable "Space Invading Girl" getting too close to him in his imagining of said party; and Moody's loud and douchey Jack, a friend of The Man's who has invited a calendar's worth of Brooklyn Babes with Biceps to his new year's party. The band members (billed as part of the cast) also get to put in their two cents, shout out to the actors, and even debate the merits of the show itself.
The script involves a lot of this meta-theatrical kind of thing: Caufield comes out of character to tell the audience about her research on Seasonal Affective Disorder; Sawyer leaves Caufield mid-scene to complain about his bit part; and the whole cast launches into a song about why "The Little Drummer Boy" might have been a better choice of story. That last bit is a little much, but in general, the self-reflexive banter is a fun and lively respite from the reverence of the usual holiday fare.
But Striking 12 is, of course, holiday fare, and its earnestness is in at least equal proportion to its humor. Unlike Scrooge, The Man's holiday ennui exists, in part, because he sees so much shallowness in the champagne-swigging first world. His embrace of the light despite that shallowness is the modern holiday miracle, and it's an embrace that many of us work hard to make, too.
Narrator 1 – Brian Allen
Narrator 2/Pianist – Vicky Stubbs
SAD Light Seller/Little Match Girl – Kelly Caufield
The Man Who’s Had Enough – Ryan Duncan*
Woman 2 – Marie Dittmer
Woman 3 – Samantha St. Onge
Happy Foley – Andrew Sawyer
Jack – Erik Moody
Violinist – tba
Bass – John Lawson
Cello – tba
Percussion 1 – Bill Manning
‘Burning Match’ graphic image by Vincent Knaus
* Member Actors' Equity Association