Striking 12

Groovelily are fooling themselves. In the beginning of "Striking 12," the musical they have co-written with Tony winner Rachel Sheinkin, the folk trio insist they have created "a holiday show for people who don't like holiday shows." The script never specifies, but that presumably means auds who balk at sentimental morals about the magical power of love in December.

With: Gene Lewin, Brendan Milburn, Valerie Vigoda.

Groovelily are fooling themselves. In the beginning of “Striking 12,” the musical they have co-written with Tony winner Rachel Sheinkin, the folk trio insist they have created “a holiday show for people who don’t like holiday shows.” The script never specifies, but that presumably means auds who balk at sentimental morals about the magical power of love in December. But beneath its attempts at subversive humor, that’s exactly the message this tuner peddles. That sincerity is valid, of course, especially when it’s as pleasant and tuneful as it is here.

Wrapped in a purple bustier, Groovelily founder Valerie Vigoda carries her electronic violin slung over her shoulder like Eddie Van Halen’s ax. The image fits the conceit that “Striking 12” is as much rock concert as theater. Though they play various characters in a retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Match Girl,” the band members rarely abandon their instruments. Drummer Gene Lewin and keyboardist Brendan Milburn are almost completely stationary, so the book scenes feel more like between-song patter than legit theater.

Nor do the performers give much pretense to acting. Granted, Milburn occasionally speaks as a misanthrope who would rather read Andersen’s fable than spend time with his friends on New Year’s Eve, and Vigoda delivers lines as the light-bulb seller (see the connection?) who wants to bring him out of his shell. But their characters get dropped when it’s time for another song. The numbers may be about fictional people — even the match girl gets a few tunes — but they are clearly performed by Groovelily.

And Groovelily behaves like they want to win us over. No matter a song’s tempo or theme, they play with smiling faces, carefully articulating every word. They seem thrilled to be onstage, and that earnestness is reflected in their lush melodies.

In other words, they resemble fresh-scrubbed vessels for the harmless holiday shows they’re meant to upend.

Their politeness hinders the supposedly rebellious humor. All three performers deliver jokes as though they can’t believe their own cheekiness, which means punchlines are oversold with big facial expressions and long pauses before funny words.

But are the words funny? One zany number is called “Screwed Up People Make Great Art,” which explains how Andersen could write a story about a match girl who dies. “He was often found dressing up in girly clothes,” the lyrics say, “so insane he wrote a lot of fairy tales to ease the pain.”

Elsewhere, we’re given the cliche of a white man rapping badly, then looking at the audience with an expression that says, “Can you believe it? I’m rapping!” And one of the parties Milburn refuses to attend is meant to get a laugh because it features “Brooklyn babes with biceps.”

“Striking 12’s” lame wit obscures its moments of beauty. Vigoda’s voice soars, and several of her serious ballads — particularly “Wonderful,” in which the match girl imagines a better life — sound like radio hits.

Similarly, the conclusion, in which the light-bulb seller and the shut-in escape loneliness by being together, delivers sweetness without irony. The harmonies in the final number induce chills.

Sheinkin and director Ted Sperling could have helped highlight these moments, even if they do contradict “Striking 12’s” stated mission. Both, however, seem content to let the band pretend toward comedy and edge.

But if Groovelily could embrace their bleeding hearts instead of apologizing for them, they would have a more authentic show.

Striking 12

Daryl Roth Theater; 340 seats; $75 top

Production: A Nancy Nagel Gibbs and Greg Schaffert presentation of a musical in one act with music by Brendan Milburn and Valerie Vigoda, book and lyrics by Rachel Sheinkin, Milburn and Vigoda. Directed by Ted Sperling.

Creative: Sets, David Korins; costumes, Jennifer Caprio; lighting, Michael Gilliam; sound, Robert J. Killenberger; production stage manager, Kim Vernace. Opened Nov. 12, 2006. Reviewed Nov. 11. Running time: 1 HOUR, 25 MIN.

Cast: With: Gene Lewin, Brendan Milburn, Valerie Vigoda.

More Legit

  • The Kilroys The List

    Listen: New List, New Leaders as the Kilroys Push for Parity

    The collective of writers and producers known as the Kilroys has been pushing for gender parity in the theater for five years now. With the launch last week of the latest edition of the List — the group’s annual round-up (inspired by Hollywood’s Black List) of plays by women, trans and non-binary writers — members [...]

  • Annette Bening

    Star-Studded Cast to Perform Live Reading of the Mueller Report

    Haven’t perused the Mueller report yet? A star-studded cast, including Annette Bening, Kevin Kline, and John Lithgow, can read it to you. For one night only on Monday, June 24, stars will perform a live reading of passages from the Mueller report for “The Investigation: A Search for the Truth in Ten Acts,” Robert Schenkkan’s [...]

  • Paula Vogel Never Expected 'Indecent' to

    Paula Vogel Never Expected 'Indecent' to Be This Timely

    When Paula Vogel began writing “Indecent” in 2010, she had no idea how resonant its exploration of immigration woes, anti-Semitism and homophobia in the past century would become in the current political climate. The Tony-nominated play, running until July 7 at L.A.’s Ahmanson Theater, traces the theatrical history of 1907 Yiddish play “God of Vengeance” [...]

  • Bitter Wheat review

    West End Review: John Malkovich in David Mamet's 'Bitter Wheat'

    How soon is too soon? Hardly a year had passed since allegations against Harvey Weinstein were made public before David Mamet announced that his satire on the subject, “Bitter Wheat,” was set to star John Malkovich in the West End. Six months later, we’re sat watching a corpulent, super-rich movie mogul — Barney Fein (cough, [...]

  • Batman Julia Roberts Spike Lee

    Batman, Julia Roberts, Spike Lee Among 2020 Walk of Fame Honorees

    Batman, Julia Roberts and Spike Lee are among the names selected to be inducted into the 2020 Walk of Fame. The full list of honorees was announced by the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce’s Walk of Fame Selection Committee via an exclusive livestream by Variety. Chosen from hundreds of nominees during a selection meeting in June, [...]

  • Tracy Letts

    Tracy Letts' Comedy 'The Minutes' to Hit Broadway in 2020

    Playwright Tracy Letts’ comedy “The Minutes” will hit the Broadway stage in Feb. 2020. “The Minutes,” written by actor, producer and playwright Letts, is a comedy taking a look at the current state of American politics through the lens of a small, fictional town called Big Cherry. The play is set in a city council [...]

  • Jamie Forshaw Tapped as Executive Producer

    Jamie Forshaw Tapped as Executive Producer of MWM Live (EXCLUSIVE)

    Jamie Forshaw has been named executive producer of MWM Live, Variety has learned. The theater veteran most recently served as VP of production for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Really Useful Group. In his new role, he will oversee MWM Live’s slate of stage productions with an emphasis on expanding the division’s work on Broadway. MWM Live [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content