Six fabulous performers, a dozen-and-a-half gorgeously eclectic songs, some terrifically inventive staging, and a sizzling live band make The Unknown Artists’ Los Angeles Professional Premiere of Ryan Scott Oliver’s 35MM: A Musical Exhibition something quite special indeed.
Taking husband Matthew Murphy’s photography as his inspiration, Pasadena native-turned UCLA grad-turned New York musical theater wunderkind Oliver has confectioned a thematically varied song cycles of ballads and upbeat numbers, each one with sounds all its own.
More than fulfilling the promise the composer-lyricist first showed off more than ten years ago in the then titled Making Beautiful, 35MM reveals Oliver’s gifts for creating melodies that stick in your brain long after the final note has been sung.
The charismatic sextet of Cody Clark, Emily Clark, Nate Parker, Vincent Perez, Dana Shaw, and Katherine Washington bring their distinctive vocal gifts to one Oliver gem after another, each staged as its own musical short story by one of eight inspired directors: Lucas Alifano, Meghan Allison, Amy Bartlett, Jeff Scot Carey, Emily Clark, John Ross Clark, Allie Costa, and Kate Purnell.
Oliver’s songs run the gamut from the quirky cacophony and tight harmonies of “Crazytown” to the electric guitar-propelled rock beat of “On Monday” to the heartstrings-grabbing “The Party Goes With You.”
“Why Must We Tell Them” and “The Ballad Of Sara Berry” will likely have you itching to get up and dance even as the emotionally rich “Cut You A Piece” and “Hemming And Hawing” will have you tearing up at their downright gorgeousness.
35MM’s collection of songs are as thematically varied as they are musically eclectic. A male nanny curses the day a monster brat came into his life in “Caralee,” “Good Lady” recounts a knight’s quest for the perfect woman, a pair of love-struck vampires celebrate sucking each other dry in “Twisted Teeth,” and in what may will be the evening’s standout, the “Jolene”-like “Leave Luanne” offers country-and-western advice to an abused wife to “walk out that door” to freedom.
Musical director Brigham Freeth scores high marks for bringing Oliver’s vocal arrangements and orchestrations to vibrant life, aided and abetted by the production’s topnotch band—Charlie Ferguson on keyboard, Kohei Ando on guitar, Micah Preite on bass, and Nate Laguzza on drums.
Oliver’s full orchestrations do suffer somewhat minus the violin and cello heard on 35MM’s Original Cast Recording, though Washington does step in expertly on violin in “Leave Luanne.”
Martyn Tyler’s lighting design choices and his multimedia design (incorporating projections of Murphy’s highly imaginative photos) enhance Cody Clark’s mostly bare-blackbox scenic design. Stage manager Tyler’s sound design scores high marks for insuring that vocals never get overpowered by the band.
Ryan Scott Oliver may not yet have household-name status, but he is well on his way, and 35MM: A Musical Exposition makes it abundantly clear why.
The Dorie Theatre in THE COMPLEX, 6476 Santa Monica Boulevard, Hollywood.
March 18, 2016
Photos: Daniel J. Silwa Photography