BWW Reviews: STRIKING 12 Takes You on a Unique and Entertaining Journey

Striking 12/book, music & lyrics by Brendan Milburn, Rachel Sheinkin and Valerie Vigoda/directed by Janet Roston/Laguna Playhouse/through December 28

BWW Reviews: STRIKING 12 Takes You on a Unique and Entertaining Journey

Loud repetitious music usually is a turnoff to me, in spite of the fact that the rock and roll of the 60s and 70s constitutes a large part of my musical background. I grew up listening to it and like much of it, but in later years have narrowed my preferences to pop standards, jazz and Broadway fare, which always make me happy. Although Irish, I have learned to love Celtic music more recently; since Once, I have become increasingly enamored of that sound especially at Christmas. When you add violin to keyboard, drums and guitar, as do the creators of Striking 12, now in its Orange County premiere at the Laguna Playhouse through December 28, you get that rousingly joyful sound loud and clear, and that plus the brilliance of the four musicians/actors (Brent Schindele, Marisa Duchowny, Amberly Rosen and Matt Wolpe) are enough to send one over the moon for an all too brief 90 minutes.

This is not your typical musical fare. The stage is set up in concert style for the musicians with keyboard and percussion clearly visible as you take your seats. There is a pretty white background with snowflakes that will serve as a screen for several projections and a small staircase on one side of the stage and ramp on the other allowing the musicians to come quickly downstage to the center spotlight, a sort of playing area for much of the action of the story. But at first glance, you think concert. Then in an introduction the producers of the Playhouse announce that what you are about to see is a very contemporary re-envisioning, a fresh perspective on the musical form, with a nonlinear story line. Expect the unexpected! Somehow within the first five minutes as the four actors took their places (Schindele at the keyboards, Wolpe on drums, Rosen on violin and Duchowny centerstage as the leading player) and pre-curtain announcements were made musically, I knew I was in for a rare treat, something novel, unlike anything I had ever seen before. How riveted I became to every second of the music and the storytelling!

BWW Reviews: STRIKING 12 Takes You on a Unique and Entertaining Journey

The basic story is Hans Christian Anderson's Little Match Girl, a sweet simplistic story set in 1840s Denmark about an impoverished little girl selling matches in the snow and having no luck with sales or with keeping warm. She ends up seeing an image of her dead grandmother who spiritually leads her to the warmth of heaven. In realistic terms, she dies; it's a fairy tale with an unhappy ending.

The four actors keep their own first names as the characters they play. Brent reads aloud Anderson's story on New Year's Eve. He is reminded of the little match girl after he meets a gal who has come to his door selling light bulbs. Brent is burned out by his corporate job and Marisa, as well as the little match girl, plays this gal who symbolizes a sort of guide to self-help. The bulbs, she claims, possess a miraculous power to light up one's path with hope. Matt Wolpe plays various characters, a friend of Brent who is throwing a New Year's Eve party and also, with the two gals, several voices on Brent's answering machine as well as characters on TV programs and commercial actors. Amberly pretty much sticks to the violin but the magnificent music she makes with it is more dramatic and evocative than ten characters put together. So, we have the contemporary story that pairs Brent with Marisa and Anderson's fairy tale that serves as the heartwarming background. Matt supplies most of the humor and is hysterical in every role he plays, especially the little drummer boy. The actors do break character from time to time and move around the space, away from their musical instruments to play out scenes, but director Janet Roston avoids choppiness, maintaining a steady flow throughout.

It is interesting to note that there are some delicious references to Hans Christian Anderson as a screwed-up that takes sad, ugly characters trapped, fighting unbeatable odds and turns it all into great art.

Yes, indeed, there's difficulty in describing all the details of what you are going to see onstage. But, under Roston's meticulous direction, the four actors take you on a fun-filled odyssey that is bound to move each of you in different ways. Don't let the sad story of the little match girl fool you: there is plenty of enjoyment here as well as some great melodic songs composed by creators Brendan Milburn, Rachel Sheinkin and Valerie Vigoda. Don't miss Striking 12 through December 28 only!

BWW Reviews: STRIKING 12 Takes You on a Unique and Entertaining Journey

(photo credit: Ed Krieger)

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