A drummer, a keyboardist and a violin player (and not just any violin, but a Viper with its wickedly fascinating V shape and electric sound) command the stage for an entire musical to tell a holiday story spanning centuries and geography. The two men and one woman have to not only be able to act, but play the entire rock/pop/jazz score by themselves.
Anyone looking for something different in December might want to take in the second production from TUTS Underground this season, which its director, Marley Wisnoski, describes as “a concert mixed with theater.” In Striking 12, a modern-day New York City man, single and very unhappy in life after his fiancée has broken up with him, decides that New Year's Eve celebrations are not for him and he'll stay home.
A young woman comes to his door selling lightbulbs – special ones designed for seasonal affective disorder – but he turns her away, Before she goes, she brings up Hans Christian Andersen's classic story "The Little Match Girl," and he begins reading it.
“With that comes the third story, and the whole show is a mix between the 21st century and 19th-century Denmark,” says Wisnoski. “How her story moves him to look past himself and see other people is really the beauty of this piece to me. It doesn't highlight Santa Claus or holiday festivities but rather the other side about how other people in the world live, are depressed, broken-hearted or live in poverty.”
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Wisknoski says she realized from the start this was going to be a challenging story to tell. The associate artistic director at TUTS explains that the same actors take on the roles of multiple characters, so the young woman selling lightbulbs is also the Little Match Girl.
“How do I move her around 19th-century Denmark and the 21st-century world?” Part of the solution was using the electric Viper with its shoulder strap, which allowed actress Andrea Gross (on Broadway: Cabaret, Once, Rent) easy movement across the stage in the 70-minute one act, Wisnoski says. The other two instruments were the keyboard (Ian Lowe, National Tour: Murder for Two) and the drums (Zach Grossman Regional: The Buddy Holly Story). “You have someone on the keyboard and the drums the whole time; how do you make that work? How do you keep moving the story along?” Wisnoski says. Solutions included moving the stage closer to the audience to make it a more intimate experience and using lighting spots to help the audience know when to look at what performer, she says.
Even though there are no elves, Santa Clauses or big numbers, Wisnoski says the show, which she described as ultimately uplifting and filled with hope, is family friendly. And it all comes complete with snow for the first time in a TUTS Underground production. What more could you ask for?
Performances are scheduled for December 17-23 at 7:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 8:30 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at Zilkha Hall at the Hobby Center, 800 Bagby. Through December 23. For information, visit tutsunderground.com or call 713-558-8887.$25-$49.