It’s not often that accomplished actors also are fine musicians. The Ensemble Theatre’s fantastic holiday show, Striking 12, features three talented young performers who play instruments, sing, and tell a story-filling up the house with joie de vivre on a Saturday night. Originally conceived by the New York band GrooveLily, Striking 12 is best described as a hybrid between musical theater and live performance. Ensemble Theatre’s innovative artistic director Jonathan Fox is to be commended for bringing us this delightful entertainment.
But don’t expect the story to be saccharine-sweet. Set in New York City on New Year’s Eve, the plot centers on a disillusioned thirtysomething (Brent Schindele) who rejects the party invitations and stays at home to read. When a young woman (Charleene Closshey) knocks on his apartment door selling full-spectrum light bulbs, which combat Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), he is inspired to reread Hans Christian Andersen’s 1843 tale, The Little Match Girl. Although the real-life girl fails to evoke sympathy, the fictional character of Andersen’s poignant story deepens his compassion.
This parallel storyline is skillfully woven into the musical fabric of the show by the three performers, two of whom-Closshey and Matt Wolpe-play multiple roles. Closshey’s presence on stage is striking. Her spirited playing on the Viper electric violin and her spunky personality lend liveliness and humor to such numbers as “The Sales Pitch.” An internationally renowned performer, Closshey is wonderfully cast. At times, the violin sounds ascended ethereally, evoking the little match girl’s tragic end, but Closshey’s Irish fiddling was equally effective.
Complementing Closshey’s energy, Wolpe’s performance provided comic relief, often exploding into a rapturous drumming session. His song “Screwed-Up People Make Great Art” drew a great deal of laughter from the audience with its bittersweet commentary on the lives of such troubled artists as Janis Joplin, Virginia Woolf, and Vincent van Gogh.
At the helm of the production is Schindele, who is both the musical director and the protagonist. Schindele depicted his character’s transformation from self-involvement to generosity of spirit intelligently, while his wholesome, all-American looks and charm made his cantankerous character instantly likeable. Striking 12 will appeal not only to an audience that appreciates its sophisticated humor, but also to a younger generation, who will delight in the vigor of the multitasking and the camaraderie that the three performers bring to this alternative holiday musical.