Just because holiday shows tend to be conventional affairs with familiar character types and plot devices doesn’t mean they can’t rock. The new musical by the band GrooveLily, Striking 12, opens December 4 at the Ensemble Theatre, and it promises to revive the theatrics of grumpy old men and cheery cherubs and turn it into something worthy of an alternative rock club. Originally created as a hybrid of rock concert and musical drama, the show is based loosely on Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Match Girl, and requires a cast of three-a drummer, a violinist, and a keyboard player-all of whom also have to sing and act. Because the original version was played by GrooveLily using their own names and personae, each new Striking 12 cast gets to bring something of their own to the stage, including their own names. This production features Brent Schindele as the keyboard player and musical director, Charleene Closshey as the violinist/Little Match Girl, and Matt Wolpe as the drummer. I spoke with Schindele last week, moments after he finished rehearsing.
I just saw another show adapted by Rachel Sheinkin, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. Sheinkin also adapted Striking 12. Are they similar? There’s an improvisational aspect to this show as well. Because of the way the characters work, a lot of lines need to be adlibbed, and this becomes part of the rehearsal process. You hardly ever get a chance to have this much fun in rehearsal.
Striking 12 has been described as a holiday show for people who don’t like holiday shows. What does that mean to you? There’s a comic sensibility at work in this show that is very contemporary. The core of a conventional holiday show is there, but layered over it are all these ironic remarks and references-the sense of humor you would associate with a cool rock band. And it’s all influenced by how many roles everyone plays. My character plays the fewest roles and has the most to do as far as handling the duties of a traditional main character. At the other end of the spectrum is Matt, who wears so many hats that he has to keep a hat tree next to the drum kit.
How did you find Charleene Closshey? Will she play the same kind of special violin [the Viper] that was used in the original show? Charleene came from Florida, where she has done a lot of stage and music work. Her violin playing is amazing, and she managed to find a five-string Viper violin that not only has the extra low-end range, but also, because of the V-shape, allows her to sing comfortably without having to hold the instrument with her chin.
I was the first one cast, and as music director, I was part of the audition team after that, so I saw all the candidates for the other two parts. We were crossing our fingers because we wanted someone for the female lead with that winsome quality, the ability to engage the audience with her personality alone-but she had to be a great singer and play the violin, too. An actress with little violin experience could not have learned the music. But then in walked Charleene Closshey, and not only could she sing and act, she was a fabulous musician. Matt Wolpe is also very talented, and it is great to be working with someone who plays and acts so well.
Is this family entertainment? The jokes are grown-up, and the humor, just like in anything these days, is sophisticated, but I don’t think that there’s anything thematically that would be an issue for kids. It’s PG-13, not R.
Striking 12 will be at Ensemble Theatre’s Alhecama Theatre (914 Santa Barbara St.) Tuesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 and 7 p.m. from December 4-28. For tickets and information, call 965-5400 or visit ensembletheatre.com.