Music, theater, seasonal antidote
Sad fable frames New Year’s Eve story in song
In a couple of weeks, the half-salutation, half-exhortation “Happy New Year!’’ will fill the air, complete with that pushy, brooking-no-resistance exclamation point.
But what if you’re not in the mood for a “Happy New Year!’’
What if, for you, it’s a Grouchy New Year, and you’d like to spend New Year’s Eve in your apartment, in a state of solitary brooding, thank you very much?
That’s the case for an office worker in SpeakEasy Stage Company’s production of “Striking 12.’’ As much a concert as a work of musical theater, “Striking 12’’ is (very) short on plot but long on likability, with appealing pop-rock tunes and a mood both cynical and humane, melancholy and affirmative.
That atmospheric blend also characterized “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,’’ the book for which was written by Rachel Sheinkin. Sheinkin collaborated on “Striking 12’’ with the husband-and-wife team of Brendan Milburn and Valerie Vigoda, members of the indie trio GrooveLily.
The SpeakEasy production is performed in a cabaret-style setting by an able and engaging cast handling multiple duties as musicians, singers, and actors: José Delgado on keyboard, Erikka Walsh on violin, and Zachary Hardy on drums. “Striking 12’’ represents a solid directorial debut for Scott Sinclair, 22, who graduated from Emerson College earlier this year (and works as a marketing associate at SpeakEasy).
The main characters in the show are unnamed. Delgado plays the office worker, who, having broken up with his fiancee, is now rebuffing the pleas of a friend (Hardy) that he come to the friend’s New Year’s Eve party. No way: He might see his ex there, for one thing, and for another, he’s tired of everyone trying to inundate him with incessant uplift. “What’s there to celebrate about?’’ Delgado sings. “I’d rather stay at home and grout my shower stall.’’
Hans Christian Andersen’s 1845 fable “The Little Match Girl’’ frames the events of “Striking 12’’ and establishes the mood of the piece, which features songs titled “Green & Red (and I’m Feeling Blue),’’ “Matches for Sale,’’ and “Last Day of the Year.’’
Delgado’s office worker has only the dimmest memory of Andersen’s tale, but he is reminded of it when a young woman (Walsh) shows up at his door on New Year’s Eve, selling customized lights that help combat Seasonal Affective Disorder.
He finds this door-to-door saleswoman a perplexing and touching figure — working on New Year’s Eve? — and after she leaves, he finds a copy of “The Little Match Girl’’ and begins to read it. He is haunted by Andersen’s tale of an impoverished, neglected, barefoot child who froze to death “on the last evening of the old year.’’
In a song titled “It’s Not All Right,’’ the grumbling self-pity with which he began this New Year’s Eve expands to a broader indictment of the collective indifference that sealed the fate of the little match girl (“It’s not all right/ The world just walks on by’’), then to an attack on our own hypocrisy in this season of alleged good will and making of resolutions (“We’re talking big/ And we’re acting small/ Nobody’s ever gonna change at all’’), and finally, to a personal resolution of his own: to find the young woman and show her some human kindness.
The three performers sometimes break the fourth wall, addressing one another by their real names and engaging in byplay that is disruptive to the narrative, if sometimes amusing. Hardy, for example, plaintively demands to know why the show can’t include “The Little Drummer Boy.’’ (He eventually gets his chance.)
Other diverting moments include the jaunty “Screwed-up People Make Great Art,’’ which comments on Andersen’s tormented life and alludes to Charlie Parker, Janis Joplin, and Vincent van Gogh, asserting: “Screwed-up people make great art.’’
“Striking 12’’ is not great art. But at a time when we’re awash in Christmas-themed shows of one kind or another, it’s a welcome addition to the seasonal mix.
Don Aucoin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.