×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

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:
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

  • CAROL CHANNING HERSCHFELD. Actress Carol Channing

    Remembering Carol Channing: A Master of Channeling the Power of Personality

    There was only one Carol Channing, and her outsize personality was a source of delight to many fans — and imitators. Gerard Alessandrini’s stage spoof “Forbidden Broadway” had many incarnations over the years, including the 1994 edition when an audience member was selected every evening to come onstage and impersonate Carol Channing with the cast. [...]

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    Viola Davis, Lin-Manuel Miranda Among Celebrities Remembering Carol Channing

    Viola Davis, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Bernadette Peters are among the slew of celebrities taking to Twitter to pay tribute to late singer, comedienne and actress Carol Channing. Known for her starring roles in Broadway’s “Hello Dolly!” and “Gentleman Prefer Blondes,” the legend of the stage and screen died Tuesday at her home in Rancho Mirage, [...]

  • What the Constitution Means to Me

    Listen: How Things Got Scary in 'What the Constitution Means to Me'

    For a decade, writer-performer Heidi Schreck had wanted to write a play inspired by her experiences as a teen debater. But over the years the show started to develop into something both urgently political and deeply personal — and things got scary. In the Broadway-bound “What the Constitution Means to Me,” Schreck reimagines her speech-and-debate [...]

  • Carol Channing Dead

    Carol Channing, Star of Broadway's 'Hello, Dolly!' and 'Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,' Dies at 97

    Larger-than-life musical stage personality Carol Channing, who immortalized the characters of Lorelei Lee in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” and Dolly Gallagher Levi in “Hello, Dolly!,” has died. She was 97. Channing died Tuesday of natural causes at her home in Rancho Mirage, Calif. Her publicist B. Harlan Boll confirmed the news. He wrote, “It is with [...]

  • 'What the Constitution Means to Me'

    'What the Constitution Means to Me' Transfers to Broadway

    “What the Constitution Means to Me,” a buzzy Off-Broadway production that counts Hillary Clinton and Gloria Steinem among its fans, is making the move uptown. The play will come to Broadway this spring for a 12-week limited run at the Helen Hayes Theater. “What the Constitution Means to Me” is one part civics lesson, one [...]

  • Choir Boy review

    Broadway Review: 'Choir Boy'

    Honestly, I was afraid that “Choir Boy” — the sweetly exuberant account of a gifted prep school boy’s coming of age, written by “Moonlight” Oscar winner Tarell Alvin McCraney — would be swallowed up in a Broadway house, after winning us over in an Off Broadway staging in 2013.  But aside from the odd set [...]

  • Jason Robert Brown

    Listen: How Ariana Grande Got Jason Robert Brown to Madison Square Garden

    Broadway composer Jason Robert Brown never expected to find himself performing onstage at Madison Square Garden. But he did — thanks to his pal Ariana Grande. Brown met Grande before she was a superstar, when she was in the 2008 Broadway cast of his teen musical “13.” The two have kept in touch ever since [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content