Monday, December 8, 2014

Review: Striking 12 Strikes a Chord at Laguna Playhouse

Marisa Duchowny and Brent Schindele. Photos by Ed Krieger

Generally people fall into one of two categories when it comes to the holidays; those who love every moment of the glittering merriment and those who would rather it all end as quickly as possible. In Striking 12, the holiday concert-musical from GrooveLily’s Valerie Vigoda and Brendan Milburn, and musical theatre writer, Rachel Sheinkin, both are represented in a hybrid production that mixes GrooveLily’s category-defying music with a non-traditional New Year’s Eve story to create an experience that lands somewhere in between genres.

Directed with sweet simplicity by Janet Roston, it features a quartet of actor/singer/musicians: musical director Brent Schindele on keyboards, Marisa Duchowny on guitar, Matt Wolpe on drums, and Amberly Rosen on a Viper electric violin. The 90-minute self-professed “non-spectacular non-extravaganza” contains more than thirty songs in a variety of styles, from folk to pop to rockabilly to jazz. Schindele and Duchowny carry the bulk of the narrative while Wolpe adds comic relief with a series of hilariously eccentric characters and fresh-faced Rosen dazzles on the violin.

It’s inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Match Girl and follows Schindele as an unlucky in love modern-day urbanite who shuns the end of the year festivities, opting instead to spend the night sulking at home. But when a quirky young woman selling LED light bulbs knocks on his door the evening quickly takes an unexpected turn. The result is a heartwarming tale that highlights the power of hope and the beauty of transformation.  

Striking 12 was Vigoda and Milburn’s first crossover into musical theatre writing and an experiment that has since led to shows such as Disney’s Toy Story the Musical and Sleeping Beauty Wakes (presented in LA by Deaf West Theatre at the Kirk Douglas Theatre). The format – more a staged storytelling concert than traditional musical – alternates between contemporary New York and 19th century Denmark as a story within a story emerges. There are times the airy structure feels somewhat disjointed, but it still communicates the deeper undertones of the show’s message and its charming score easily compensates for any idiosynchracies.

Roston’s direction of Duchowny as the fairy tale version of the little match girl is especially touching. Duchownys gentle innocence makes Snow Song (Its Coming Down) and Wonderful quite wonderful, and Schindele shines on “Green & Red (& Im Feeling Blue)” and “It’s Not Alright,” songs that reveal his inner angst. Wolpe is a natural comedian in every sense of the word. From his showstopping comedy number, “Screwed Up People Make Great Art,” to his insistence that the group should be doing The Little Drummer Boy, (and what a payoff that has), every character is terrific.

Striking 12 is a holiday love letter that will bring you back to yourself. It’s the kind of musical experience that will warm your heart and remind you what is truly important in life. What better time than the turn of the calendar to remember.

Marisa Duchowny and Brent Schindele

Matt Wolpe, Marisa Duchowny, Amberly Rosen, and Brent Schindele

Marisa Duchowny and Amberly Rosen

December 3 – 28, 2014
Laguna Playhouse
606 Laguna Canyon Road
Laguna Beach, CA 
Tickets: (949) 497-ARTS (2787) or

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