Two Holiday Plays Outside The (Gift) Box

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Looking for entertainment beyond “A Christmas Carol” and “Nutcracker” this holiday season? WBUR's critic-at-large sizes up two theater offerings:

Erikka Walsh, Zachary Hardy and José Delgado in a scene from "Striking 12" (Craig Bailey/Perspective Photo)
Erikka Walsh, Zachary Hardy and José Delgado in a scene from "Striking 12" (Craig Bailey/Perspective Photo)

'Striking 12'

You wouldn’t think that “The Little Match Girl” would be subject matter for a hip, new musical promising hope and good cheer for the new year. The title character does, after all, freeze to death.

Have no fear, nobody bites the bullet in “Striking 12,” one of two new musicals to open in the area recently.

This one began its life in Philadelphia by a group named Groovelily. It’s an attempt to find a middle ground between a rock concert and musical theater. Three musicians — an electric violinist, a synthesizer player and a drummer — who go in and out of character to tell a Sondheim-like story of a man who’s backed off of relationships and is planning to spend New Year’s Eve channel surfing rather than going out to a party. He is visited by a door-to-door saleswoman selling electric holiday lights so he decides he’s going to read the Hans Christian Anderson story, and thus begins his ultimate transformation.

The conception’s better than the execution, though, despite an irreverent spirit and three good performers. But most of the songs settle for a middle-of-the-road pathway between rock and show music that doesn’t show much musical imagination, either lyrically or melodically.

- Through Jan. 2 at the BCA Calderwood Pavilion, by the SpeakEasy Stage Company

Conner Christiansen, Meghan McGeary and Teal Wicks in "The Blue Flower" (Marcus Stern/A.R.T)
Conner Christiansen, Meghan McGeary and Teal Wicks in "The Blue Flower" (Marcus Stern/A.R.T)

'The Blue Flower'

“The Blue Flower” is almost exactly the opposite. At its heart is a story of four lovers, three of whom are members of various modernist art movements early in the 20th century. One of them is killed in World War I, though his presence haunts the rest of the show. One of the women is a surrealistic singer in an avant-garde band of the era.

It’s a full-bodied production conceived by Jim and Ruth Bauer, and it does all the imaginative things that make the American Repertory Theater special –- great stagecraft that utilizes film, movement, irreverent humor, smart storytelling and, in this case, music, to capture an era. The Bauers have developed a musical language that’s quite unique, combining a lot of Kurt Weill, a little of David Byrne and a smattering of country-western music.

It’s a real pastiche — very much in the spirit of the collage artwork of the day –- taking a little bit of this and a little bit of that and throwing it all together. That approach works in the first half of the show, but it starts to get tiresome in the second, once the Nazis make their evil presence felt. At that point we need a stronger unifying theme other than "art can’t change the world, but it can make it a little better." The Bauers might have been better off just hinting at what was to come. Once you bring on the Nazis you have to have something to say. Unless you’re Mel Brooks.

- Through Jan. 8 at the American Repertory Theater

And Another Thing...

Last chance: Two terrific local actors, Robert Pemberton and Anne Gottlieb, who are married in real life, are superb in “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune” at the New Repertory Theatre’s Black Box Theater, through Tuesday.

This program aired on December 20, 2010.

Headshot of Ed Siegel

Ed Siegel Critic-At-Large
Ed Siegel is critic-at-large for WBUR.



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