By Barbara Trainin Blank @traininblank
If the title of the show “Striking 12” seems reminiscent of “Cinderella,” don’t expect the ending to be quite as exuberant. It is, however, more hopeful than the beginning.
“Striking 12” is a modern musical fairy tale – about a grumpy, overworked New Yorker who resolves to spend New Year’s Eve alone in his apartment and go to sleep early, said Marci Shegogue, who is directing the show with Free Range Humans, a professional theater company and member of BlackRock’s Creative Consortium.
“Then an unexpected visitor, who’s selling lights to treat seasonal affective disorder brings much-needed cheer,” she added.
The plot draws on the Hans Christian Andersen’s story “The Little Match Girl,” only less tragically. In that fairy tale, a girl dies alone after using up all her matches in a vain attempt to get warm. In “Striking 12,” the visitor says something that reminds the grumpy man of the Andersen story.
“It changes him. He doesn’t want to be alone,” said Shegogue.
The plot goes back and forth between the classic fairy tale and the contemporary one.
“Free Range Humans is a fairly new company, strong-driven and immersive,” stated Elizabeth Lucas, producing artistic director. “We do shows in Frederick and Montgomery counties.”
“Striking 12” didn’t have the usual genesis of a musical.
The indie pop-rock band Groovelily came up with the concept, launched it in a concert format and wrote the book, lyrics and music,
Specifically, the authors were Brendan Milburn, Valerie Vigoda and Rachel Sheinkin.
Eventually, the show did make it to off-Broadway.
The seven actors in the Free Range Humans cast sing and play musical instruments throughout the show. That includes the lead, Alan Naylor, on piano.
The eclectic score combines pop, rock, jazz, show tunes, and other genres.
Moreover, except for the two leads, the others portray several different characters.
“The instruments are part of their characters,” said Shegogue, who said it’s enjoyable to just oversee vocals instead of a band.
The lead actor, Alan, Naylor, started out in music – with a degree in opera performance. His specialty is art songs – which he performs in self-productions, concerts or cabarets, galleries and arts clubs.
“There’s not a huge audience for it,” he admitted.
There’s more in theater, which Naylor has been involved with for several years. He’s a 2015 Helen Hayes Award winner for Lead Actor in a Musical, which he won for “Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris” at Creative Cauldron.
The character he plays in “Striking 12” is called only The Man Who’s Had Enough.
“He’s tied up in a straitjacket,” said Naylor. “He’s trying to find humanity, to engage and explore in a positive way.”
Does the relationship between the grumpy man and the match girl/lightbulb salesperson end up as a love story?
“It’s not what most people think of romance, as in rom-com,” Naylor said. “There is a suggestion that maybe they go off and have a date.”
What the story is really, the actor said, about human beings connecting and recognizing that things might be OK. “It’s about a man’s journey to finding humanity and get past mental illness. It’s about pain and the recognition of other people’s empathy, stepping outside oneself. Both leads are mentally ill – at least to start.”
Robin Weiner is the Light Seller/Little Match Girl/Violinist. Also in the cast are Kevin Uleck, Lauren Farnell, Michael Reid, Natalie Spehar and Paige Austin Rammelkamp.
Lucas said many people are still “unaware” of BlackRock and the “breadth of what they present. “It’s a beautiful theater that’s been around for many years and puts on quality things.”
“Striking 12” runs Dec. 13 through Dec. 22 at BlackRock Center for the Arts, located on 12901 Town Commons Drive in Germantown. For more information, call 301-528-0180 or visit www.blackrockcenter.org.