How many Tiny Tims, Nutcrackers, and Santas have we seen over the years? For those of us who are tired of the rigmarole, Striking 12, a rock-pop musical presented by TUTS Underground, is this season’s un-Christmas Christmas show in Houston. And according to TUTS’ associate artistic director Marley Wisnoski, also director of the musical, Striking 12 is a “a holiday show for people who don’t really like the holidays.”
“There are no Christmas festivities, no Santas, no elves,” Wisnoski says. “But the show is simple, it’s not materialistic at all, it encourages us to look past our own lives to look out to those who are in need…It shows us that side we don’t want to think about.”
The show begins on New Years’ Eve in 21st-century New York City with the aptly named character The Man Who Has Had Enough shuffling home from his dead-end job. He ignores all the voicemails inviting him out and bitterly sinks into his evening alone until a woman selling Seasonal Disorder Lights knocks on his door. After turning her down, the man recalls Hans Christian Anderson’s story about the Little Match Girl—a harrowing fairytale of a child struggling to survive and failing. The musical moves back in time to tell her story before winding up back in the 21st century.
“For me, the show really highlights the other side of he holidays for a lot of people, whether it’s being depressed and not wanting to celebrate or living in poverty, especially with the refugee crisis,” Wisnoski says. “We tend to overlook even the thousands of children in our own city who are not getting presents, who cannot celebrate.”
Staying true to the un-materialistic theme, the set is rather spare with six birch trees, hanging light bulbs, a few windowpanes, a bench, and a 19th-century clock. Wisnoski calls the music, performed live by trio GrooveLily, eclectic and untraditional. Things like Valerie Vigoda’s electric viper violin—a five-stringed instrument strapped to her shoulder so she can walk around—are only the beginning of what makes this musical unique during the red-and-green jingle bell deluge we’re used to seeing this season.
“For instance, on our other stage we’re doing A Christmas Story, you get a very traditional style of musical theatre—a song, a dance number,” Wisnoski says, referring to the current TUTS musical that runs through Dec. 20. Striking 12, in keeping with the alternative originality that TUTS Underground is known for, does something different.
“It’s a little bit more abstract than literal,” Wisnoski says. “It doesn’t sound anything like your traditional Annie’s or White Christmases.”
Dec 17–23. $25–49. Hobby Center, 800 Bagby St. 713-558-8887. tuts.com