American mini-musical fails to do justice to The Little Match Girl

American mini-musical fails to do justice to The Little Match Girl

Robert Tanitch reviews Striking 12 at Union Theatre, London SE1

Striking 12, a mini-musical by Brendan Milburn and Valerie Vigoda with Rachel Sheinkin, inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Match Girl, was a hit Off-Broadway in 2006.

Vigoda has described it as a cross between a rock concert and a holiday show for people who don’t like holiday shows.

A man (Declan Bennett) who hates New Year’s Eve decides to stay at home. The arrival of a saleswoman (Bronté Barbé) at his door selling holiday lamps triggers memories of the story Andersen wrote in 1845 about a dying child’s dream of a better life.

Bronté Barbé in Striking 12 - Credit Tom Grace

Bronté Barbé in Striking 12

The Little Match Girl, bareheaded and barefooted, walks through the snowy streets. She is cold and hungry. She fails to sell any matches.

She strikes the matches one by one and has visions of a warm stove, roast goose for supper, a Christmas tree and her dead granny (the only person who loved her) who whisks her off to heaven.

She dies with a smile on her face.

When it comes to gloomy 19th century sob -stories about waifs The Little Match Girl is right up there with Jo, the street sweeper, in Charles Dickens’s Bleak House.

Roger Allers made a sweet animated short film in 2006 for Walt Disney.

The present version is for grown-ups, not children. The storytelling is weak. The pathos is nil.

There is a cast of five, made up of actors who can sing and play musical instruments, plus a pianist.

The show offers “voices, instruments and imagination.” What it does not offer is diction. There are 24 numbers. The music, pop, rock, jazz, is pleasant but I heard very few of the lyrics.

Robert Tanitch Mature Times theatre reviewerWhen the Union Theatre was in its old building I saw lots of musicals there and I don’t remember having any problem hearing the lyrics.

The amplification of music and singers and an over-busy production by Oliver Kaderbhai certainly do not help. Particularly tiresome is the use of an office chair on wheels.

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