Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever"

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Reviews of Current Productions

note: entire contents copyright 2010 by Sheila Barth

"Striking 12"
A Modern Day "Litttle Match Girl"

Reviewed by Sheila Barth

SpeakEasy Stage Company’s production of one-act, 90-minute, three-person musical, “Striking 12,” provokes mixed results. Some people like it, some don’t, and others question whether they do, for a myriad of reasons. Either way, there’s something appealing for everyone in husband-wife team Brendan Milburn and Valerie Vigoda, and Rachel Sheinkin’s award-winning cabaret play that’s appearing through Jan. 2 in the Stanford Calderwood Pavilion for the Arts’ second-floor, cozy theater in Deane Hall. The production opened in 2002 in Philadelphia, starring the couple, who generally perform as rock indie trio, GrooveLily, with Gene Lewin.

They enlisted Sheinkin, whose fame was catapulted for her writing of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” who contributed to creating this alternative holiday musical that’s hyped as a “unique hybrid of musical theater and live concert in which the musicians are also the actors and the concert tells the story.” Lately, though, it seems playwrights are creating shows that are more economically-driven, attempting to keep expenses to a minimum by hiring multi-talented performers and utilizing less trappings. “Striking 12” has been successfully performed annually around the country, sometimes in a different version.

This production, designed by Seaghan McKay and directed by 22-year-old SpeakEasy assistant marketing director, Scott Sinclair, is set up atmospherically like a cabaret, with small tables, but food isn’t served. Overflow guests in the 100-seat space are seated in two rows on three sides, near the tables and the action on stage, that’s occupied by drummer-actor-vocalist Zachary Hardy; actress Erikka Walsh on the electric violin, and multi-talented actor-singer Jose Delgado on keyboard. Through pop, rock, jazz, and show tune beats, this likable trio translates a contemporary story and parallel story-within-a-story, involving a guy who recently broke up with his longtime fiancee, works late on New Year’s Eve, and doesn’t feel like venturing out and celebrating the holiday, despite his friends’ calls, inviting him to party with them. He prefers to curl up with a good book, lick his depressed wounds, and ignore phony festivities, until a knock on his door changes his attitude, and, possibly, his future.

He settles in, reading (for reasons unknown) Hans Christian Andersen’s gloomy Christmas story of the doomed little match girl, whom society ignores and freezes to death. Struck with an intuitive flash, our antisocial hero draws a parallel between the pretty young lady at his door, who’s selling full spectrum light bulbs to combat SAD, (seasonal affective disorder, a form of depression that occurs in colder months that’s treated with exposure to bright lights). Although he warms to her cheeriness, he turns her away.

Andersen’s ill-fated story spurs our hero to leap out of his mood, search for the young lady, save the day for her, and potentially find hope and happiness with her.

There is no acting, per se, and no scenes. The lyrics, sprinkled with brief narrations and the trio’s sound effects, relate the story, while highlighting the performers’ fine musicianship. Overhead, in the background, three cloud-shaped panels pulsate, with snowy or cartoony floral projections, pencil-type moving streetscapes, and other scenes, which, frankly, add nothing, and are distracting at times.

BOX INFO: One-act, 90-minute musical cabaret, appearing with Speakeasy Stage Company now through Jan. 2, in the second-floor Deane Hall, Stanford Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont St., South End, Boston. Performances are Wednesday, Thursday, at 7:30 p.m.; Friday, 8 p.m.; Saturday, 4,8 p.m.; Sunday, 3 p.m.; additional performances, Wednesday, Dec.22, and Friday, Dec. 31, at 2 p.m.; Tuesday, Dec. 28, at 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, Dec. 26, at 7 p.m. Tickets, $45-$55; matinee side seats, Dec. 22, $30; under age 25, $25; student rush, $14. For more information or tickets, visit, or call the Box Office at 617-933-8600.

"Striking 12" (till 2 January)
@ Boston Center for The Arts, 527 Tremont Street, BOSTON MA

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