There are no oppressive morals or overly kitschy carols in this musical sort-of-retelling of “The Little Match Girl.” What the gently amusing, thoroughly charming Striking 12 does have is a terrific pop-rock score, an admirable acknowledgment of the loneliness the holiday season can engender and a talented young quartet of actor-musicians given plenty of room to groove.
Created by Rachel Sheinkin (the Tony-winning book writer of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee) and Brendan Milburn and Valerie Vigoda, the husband-and-wife team behind the band GrooveLily, Striking 12 is a concert-theater hybrid. The Heartland Studio Theatre is set up for what looks like a tiny rock show. The performers use their own names and mostly stay behind their instruments: Amy Steele on electric violin, Mallory Nees on guitar and bass, Matt Deitchman at the keyboard and Jed Feder behind the drum kit.
The vibe is concertlike indeed: The audience is acknowledged throughout, and the band members indulge in semi-scripted banter between songs (Sheinkin’s script is flexible enough to allow the actors to inject their own personalities). But they also have a story to tell, that of a mopey office worker doing his best to avoid celebrating New Year’s Eve. The man, played by Deitchman from his perch behind the keys, has had a shitty year and can’t abide the thought of going to parties and pretending everything’s fine.
A knock at the door by a woman selling anti-SAD lightbulbs (Nees) sparks an allusion to Hans Christian Andersen’s story, interrupting the man’s narrative for a recounting of the Match Girl (Steele). The cast nimbly juggles these two threads and the performers’ “out-of-character” badinage, with a funny side trip into Andersen’s bio (“Screwed Up People Make Great Art”). This modestly moving show is a great way to ring in the season sans jingle bells.