There are two shows that can be directly linked to the genesis of The Stages of MN and one of them just happens to be a Minneapolis Musical Theatre (MMT) production in the Spring of 2019, Be More Chill. So this company has a special place in my heart which is why I feel terrible that I didn’t get to the show until their final week. The theatre company’s tagline is “Rare musicals. Well done.” and so you are almost always going to see something you’ve never seen before, and in my experience it will be done well. Such is the case with their latest offering Striking 12, I’d never heard of, let alone seen it produced before and I had a great time with it. It’s a New Years Eve tale that incorporates Hans Christian Andersen’s, The Little Match Girl into its story of a man who wants to spend the night alone rather than partying with friends. It’s a little SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), a little funny, and a little sweet with some very good music to round out this eclectic little show. Another plus for a show at this time of year, when we are all so busy, it’s about 85 minutes long and no intermission. So there’s time to take it in and still have time to wrap some presents before bed.
The show was written by Brendan Milburn, Rachel Sheinkin, and Valerie Vigoda, and I can see influences of everything from A Christmas Carol to Rent. In structure, it’s not dissimilar to Theater Latte Da’s Christmas at the Local. Again, we have a group of performers, many of them playing instruments combining songs with the retelling of a classic piece of literature. The difference here is that the actors acknowledge they are performing a show and also have a story to tell with characters alongside The Little Match Girl telling. The show opens with the cast coming into the theater and chatting with the audience, then they begin with a song about turning off your cell phones and unwrapping your candies now. The modern story being told is about a man who has had it with the year, he’s decided he just wants to spend New Years Eve on his own. There is a knock on his door and it’s a persistent woman who is trying to sell strings of SAD therapy Christmas lights door to door. Their conversation leads to the mention of the Andersen story, which the man cannot remember how it ends. So he grabs it from his shelf and we get the telling of the tale through narration and song interrupted by phone calls from friends, and in one inspired moment the talking down of the drummer who wanted to do “The Little Drummer Boy” instead.
There is something about these shows where the cast play the instruments that I really enjoy and while most of the musicians in this production have minor moments of dialogue there is one exception and it’s the captivating performance of the Bassist and Little Match Girl, Madeline Kadlec. Kadlec takes center stage for a decent portion of the show and really has a wonderful voice and seems, to my untrained eye, quite good on the bass guitar. I don’t recall seeing her before in anything, but she seemed very at home on stage and I hope we’ll be seeing more of her locally, she’s one to watch that’s for sure. Also quite good and unfamiliar to me was Nick Manthe as the grump who wants to avoid other people on New Years Eve. The role called a very wide vocal range that while staying in the middle for the most part did go to the upper and lower extremes. Manthe only struggled to be heard when called to go into the very deep registers, but that was a line or two in one song. The entire ensemble has to do a lot of high fiving and pretending they are having a good time performing, it’s one of my least favorite bits of stage business, but they generally make it as painless as possible. There is a real misfits quality to the cast that is super endearing and they sounded great together.
The show is co-directed by Kari Steinbach and MMT Artistic Director Joe Hendren with Jean Orbison Van Heel handling the music direction. Aside from the theme park, ‘aren’t we all having a great time’ aspects, which I think could be dropped, they did a wonderful job. There are 11 performers and the story is constantly changing from the modern to the Little Match Girl, moments of breaking down the fourth wall, phone calls, narrators moving us along and commenting on the action. With all that going on, the team keeps everything clear in our minds as to what is happening at any given time. There isn’t much in the way of set design or costuming to comment on, but I did note some really nice lighting queues designed by Kurt Jung. I’m thinking particularly of a moment timed perfectly to the music where first one and then a second string of the darker almost orange Christmas lights came on, just a little moment of perfection between sound and light.
Striking 12 Closes This Sunday December 18th so get your tickets quick. My Thursday night performance on a day of heavy snow was very well attended so I wouldn’t be surprised if they sell out some of these last few performances. It’s a show that’s really worth taking, you never know when or if you’ll get another chance. For more information and to purchase tickets go to https://www.aboutmmt.org/2022-23-season/
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