Friday, December 13, 2013
By STEVE FEENEY
Departing from its usual holiday concert of Broadway tunes, Good Theater this year has opened the festive season with the Maine premiere of a "hybrid concert/musical" called "Striking 12." With five instrumentalists at center stage throughout, the songs are still the main focus. But this show's imaginative storytelling ties it all together with a flowing ribbon of theatrical fun.
"Striking 12" by Good Theater
WHERE: St. Lawrence Arts, 76 Congress St., Portland
DATE REVIEWED: November 15; continues through December 9
CONTACT: 885-5883; goodtheater.com
Loosely based on Hans Christian Andersen's "The Little Match Girl," writer/composers Brendan Milburn, Rachel Sheinkin and Valerie Vigoda updated and lightened the classic story by adding cheeky tunes, inside-joke comedy and certainly more earthly uplift than the 19th-century tale provided.
The Match Girl in this show is a seller of lightbulbs designed to help those with Seasonal Affective Disorder, the affliction that can cause depression in folks during the diminished daylight of the winter months.
There's a nice bit near the end of the show about why, in today's world, people can't be just plain old sad.
In any event, the story wraps up nicely with the Light Bulb Girl and her lonely customer finding that things can be "Wonderful."
Local stalwart Kelly Caufield takes the female lead and runs with it, selling not only lightbulbs but several big numbers with a fine voice and effective stage presence. She flips with ease through the multiple levels of theatrical intensity called for from this overall light but still sophisticated show.
Broadway veteran Ryan Duncan plays the guy she wins over, after both take a trip back through the original Andersen text. An excellent voice and comic sense made Duncan a pleasure to see up close in the intimate St. Lawrence Theater space. Unlike some visitors to the provinces, he did not play above the material -- and not only because the material was first-rate.
Erik Moody, Marie Dittmer, Samantha St. Onge and Andrew Sawyer round out the cast. Each has moments in the spotlight, with Moody particularly snazzy in the hilarious "Screwed-up People Make Great Art."
Heather Kahill was a solo standout on amplified violin at Thursday's show. She moved through a variety of genres, including rock, folk and jazz, adding textures and grit when not taking the lead. Bill Manning and John Lawson added lots of punch on drums and bass, respectively.
Stephen Underwood and Victoria Stubbs provided vocal narration along with strong melody and counterpoint from their keyboards.
This delightful and thoroughly engaging show, directed by Brian P. Allen, gives encouragement for all to keep their happy lights turned on during the upcoming holiday season.
Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.