It’s hard to believe, but some people turn out their lights and close the curtains on Halloween. Instead of running outside to string multi-colored lights along their windows the day after Thanksgiving, they just sleep off the residual tryptophan – that is, if they had turkey at all. You know, it is very dry. And, on New Year’s Eve, they plan to go to bed early, just like the grumpy man who’s had enough of the holidays in Striking 12, the seasonal rock concert/musical that kicks off Queensbury Theatre’s new season.
The unnamed man (Ian Lowe) is planning to ring in the new year by avoiding his friends and not going to parties, choosing instead to park himself on his La-Z-Boy with his cat and his remote control, lamenting a year wasted with no self-improvement and nothing accomplished, except a broken engagement. That is, until a young woman (Andrea Goss) bearing Seasonal Affective Disorder pamphlets and peddling “full-spectrum holiday light bulbs” knocks on the door of his New York City apartment, interrupting his one-man pity party. Though she leaves without making a sale, she reminds him of Hans Christian Andersen's "The Little Match Girl," a story he then seeks out.
From here, the show navigates between the man’s apartment and 1840s Denmark, with occasional interjections from the actors as “themselves,” which means that yes, Striking 12 includes a faithful retelling of Andersen's tale about a little girl who fantasizes beautiful things while she freezes to death on a street corner. But that inclusion doesn’t mean the show is a downer. In fact, it’s far from it.
The brainchild of two-thirds of rock band GrooveLily (Brendan Milburn and Valerie Vigoda) and Rachel Sheinkin, book writer of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Striking 12 is quite the traditional holiday story, complete with predictable arc, though it’s masked behind radio-ready pop/rock tunes and a self-aware, millennial-pleasing sensibility that give the show the feel of something both familiar and fresh, brought to life by a cast of three multi-talented multi-taskers.
TUTS Underground first brought Striking 12 to Houston back in 2015, and the cast and creative team from that production return and remain mostly intact, led by director Marley Singletary.
Singletary brings out the very best in her cast: Goss on the electric violin, Lowe on the keyboard and Zach Cossman on drums. She guides them across the show’s tonal tightrope wonderfully, a balancing act that is especially apparent during “Matches for Sale,” “Say What?” and the bridge that links the two songs. “Matches for Sale” is a dramatic showstopper that leads into the more comedic “Say What?” without so much as a hiccup.
Lowe plays his misanthrope character thoughtfully, tackling whatever the book throws at him, whether it be a rap or a subtle put upon-ness (like during “Fine, Fine, Fine”) with ease. His voice matches the material too, with shades of an indie rocker coming through. Goss is incredibly endearing, embodying cute during “The Sales Pitch” as effortlessly as she finds the heavy emotion in “Matches for Sale” or plays her violin during “Can’t Go Home,” and she plays off Lowe well.
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But let’s not forget Striking 12 is a three-man endeavor, and Cossman on drums, like Goss, wears a variety of hats, adding great humor to the show, especially during “Say What?” and “Give the Drummer Some,” which pays off with a crowd-pleasing performance at the show’s end.
The cast’s work is enhanced by that of the production team, particularly from Music Director Michael Mertz and Sound Designer Bryan Nortin, and Set Designer Ryan McGettigan and Lighting Designer Christina Giannelli. The stage is simply designed, utilitarian but evocative, in particular the giant clock on the verge of midnight and the blue light.
The holiday entertainment market is crowded, to say the least. But the majority of the stories are centered around Christmas. To find New Year’s Eve-specific programming, you have to cast a wide net and you’ll certainly come back with such holiday fare as When Harry Met Sally, The Poseidon Adventure and New Year’s Evil (which, for some reason, hasn’t really endured). Since opening in 2002, Striking 12 has been a much welcomed and needed addition, the perfect seasonal fare that’s a little bit different, while still being exactly what we all need this time of year.
Striking 12 continues at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday; 8 p.m. Friday; 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays; and 3 and 7:30 p.m. Sunday through December 23 at Queensbury Theatre, 12777 Queensbury Lane. For more information, call 713-467-4497 or visit queensburytheatre.org. $22-$47.