If Striking 12 doesn’t get you in the holiday spirit, nothing will. This combustible powerhouse ensemble blends rock, funk, storytelling and soul, lights a fuse under the concoction and blasts the bits out of everything you thought you knew about getting through yet another season of joy.
This winning combination works because the performers are masters of their instruments, creative in their approach to story telling, and heartfelt in their delivery and message. They recognize the crushing loneliness that can exist in this season of frenzied, marketed and slam-blasted cheer, and through simple character sketches and remarkable clarity—and fabulous head banging music— they help ease us through the journey. In this Gawd awful season of product induced merry making until you drop, they bring back the simple messages of caring and sharing with crystal clarity and skill. And make you yearn to jiggle and shake your merry arse along the way.
First of all, they are phenomenal instrumentalists. Valerie Vigoda is electric violinist extraordinaire. Concert halls would yearn for the breathtaking notes she evokes from her instrument, especially in the upper register. She is equally matched by her funk and soul stirring keyboardist husband, Brendan Milburn, who churns out multiple styles with ease. Deeply rooted in musical theater, he can jump from contemporary melodic rhapsody, to soulful ballads, to Billy Preston thumping funk, in a heartbeat. And then there’s Gene Lewin who does more than play the drums–he breathes them and takes percussion to a whole new dimension. Whether smashing his way through a frenzied throbbing solo, providing the steady, reliable beat, or creating perfectly cued sound effects, Lewin seals the deal. In one quick stint, the tight ensemble recreates the staccato double echo sound theme of “Law and Order”, showcasing their talent and playful artistry.
And on top of all that, they all sing, beautifully. Vigoda’s supple voice has a melodious silkiness that’s rich in depth and timbre. The musical material created by the Milburn/ Vigoda duo along with the talented Rachel Sheinkin, author of the wickedly funny 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is richly nuanced with melody and lyrics that easily surpass a lot of the current Broadway stock. The songs are refreshingly appealing, fun to listen to, and brutally honest with a zinger-like punch. Crowd pleasers include “Red and Green and Feeling Blue,” and “Screwed Up People Make Great Art.” In “What Are you Going to Do on New Year’s Eve,” a cagey, recently decoupled guy fends off Holiday well wishers. A door-to-door saleswoman provides an interesting twist, and before he knows how it happened, he finds himself inexplicably immersed in the back story of a children’s tale by Hans Christian Anderson. The lyrics spiral off into spontaneous diversions and contemporary messages of friendship and connection, including the audience along the way with wit and charm.
Striking 12 has an honest and genuine feel and provokes nods of recognition. Besides, what’s not to love about a musical that admits, “Hey, it can get really lonely and zany in this season of peace and good will. Here’s how we can all get through it, okay? Ho, ho, ho?”
Just when you thought you heard enough holiday messages, you owe it to yourself to catch this treat on its limited run. Striking 12 by Groovelily tugs the heart, expands the mind, and generates good will without the goo, all with a bodacious downbeat that will rock your socks off. You will never hear the story of the little Match Girl, or a fabulous rendition of the Little Drummer Boy, this way ever again.
Written by Brendan Milburn, Valerie Vigoda and Rachel Sheinkin,
Created by GrooveLily
Presented by Arena Stage
Reviewed by Debbie Minter Jackson
Striking 12 runs thru Dec 13, 2009 at Arena Stage, Crystal City.