Striking 12 (Review)

The music is the good part at New Stage Collective

As an anti-traditional, anti-sentimental entertainment, New Stage Collective’s Striking 12 zips right along — at least it does when the six singer-musicians are making, as they do, some fine and fascinating music. When they set their hands to acting the meager semi-script, the show proves something less than zippy. It becomes self-conscious, self-referential and clumsy, exhibiting little of the crisp authority that Director/Producer Alan Patrick Kenny typically imposes.

It might be argued that the show’s seeming lack of polish is, in fact, a high, subtle and sophisticated sort of anti-polish. It might be argued that the laid-back attitude (for which read lackadaisical) is a revolt against more traditional holiday entertainments and an antidote to their structured sentimentality. It can also be argued, however, that those arguments are disingenuous. The truest antidote for the saccharine likes of A Christmas Carol, Nutcracker and Miracle on 34th Street is to eschew doing (or attending) such holiday entertainments. Of course, that would deny NSC some income — not that the 14 people on hand for the Striking 12 opening represented that many holi-dollars.

Enough kvetching, here’s the drill: The show’s locale is a stage in a theater. The characters are themselves — drummer Dan Dorff seated inside a Plexiglas shell; guitarist Joel Greenberg; vocalist Kera Halbersleben; electric violinist Bryan Emmon Hall; bassist Matt Holt; and the keyboardist-vocalist Kenny, founder and artistic director of New Stage.

A haunting overture, mostly from the fiddler, makes happy promises that are dashed when followed by fumbling announcements about cell phones, cough drops and thanks to sponsors. Along comes another promising start: A lovely “Snow Song” and a lonely, scene-setting “Last Day of the Year.” Then it all crashes again with a stretch of half-passioned dialogue about staying home and reading on New Year’s Eve instead of attending a party to which all 36 Rockettes have been invited. That’s the pattern: high-energy, high-interest music alternating with dialogue about winter weather depression and light bulbs that simulate sunlight.

Oh, and yes, there’s a lot of talk about Hans Christian Anderson’s harrowing Little Match Girl. Remember her? Nobody will buy her matches. She freezes to death on New Year’s Eve. In the snow. Outside, looking into a warmly lit mansion where a merry party is in progress. Dead, her spirit is transported up to heaven by a spectral grandmother. This grisly business is discussed, not demonstrated — and much railed against. Of course, that’s not at all sentimental. Or isn’t it?

There are 19 songs (including two reprises) in the score that GrooveLily keyboardist Brendan Milburn and violinist Valerie Vigoda created for themselves along with Tony-winning playwright Rachel Sheinkin (The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee). Milburn and Vigoda have been performing holiday runs of the piece around the county since 2002, including an engagement in New York that was much lauded in a New York Times review.

Most indelible of the songs are Halbersleben’s ballad-ish “Picture This” that transmutes into a stomper for her and Kenny, “Caution to the Wind.” Dorff gets to be impish with “Give the Drummer Some” and “Screwed Up People Make Great Art.” The whole thing runs about 80 minutes and most of that is music. That’s the good part.

STRIKING 12, presented by New Stage Collective, continues through (of course) New Year’s Eve. Buy tickets, check out performance times and find nearby bars and restaurants here.
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