PLAYBILL PICKS: The Contemporary Musical Theatre Songwriters You Should Know, Part Three

By Michael Gioia
28 Jan 2014

Alexander Sage Oyen

Composer-lyricist Alexander Sage Oyen — along with frequent collaborator James Presson — was recently awarded the 2013-14 Dramatist Guild Fellowship, and their musical Outlaws (which was given an industry reading Jan. 23 and starred Jay Armstrong Johnson as infamous outlaw, robber and murderer Jesse James) was selected for the 2014 ASCAP Workshop. The reading comes off the heels of Oyen's sold-out concert presentation of Moment by Moment, a song cycle of his work seen at 54 Below with Spider-Man's Jason Gotay, Mamma Mia!'s Zak Resnick, Godspell's George Salazar and former Spring Awakening actresses Alice Lee and Emma Hunton. "I'm not sure, exactly, if I can characterize my sound," admitted Oyen. "But what I can do is let you in on a bit of what I believe my writing aesthetic to be. I like to write simply. I find that my own voice (and, in turn, a character's voice) comes through best on a concise idea or melody. I find that no matter how detailed you've been in combing through your lyrics, that there's always a simpler and easier way to say things." (Check out "We Were Giants," a simplistic — and beautiful — coming-of-age ballad from Moment by Moment, performed by Gotay, Resnick, Salazar, Lee and Hunton; and "Vietnam," about a boy learning about the powers of war from his father, performed by Resnick.)

"Growing up, I listened to a lot of incredible theatre music on car rides," said Oyen, who has released three albums ("If I Knew Better" and two volumes of "Drafts") and is also the author of Sidekicks! (seen as part of NYMF's 2012 Reading Series) and A Night Like This (produced at Florida State University and Princeton University). "My mom is an amazing singer-performer — she was the first person to sing [songwriter] John Bucchino's music in New York City. I would listen to old demos of John's gorgeous tunes, I'd listen to Stephen Schwartz cast albums (and solo albums, obviously), Sondheim cast albums, and I think that those really helped the foundation of the writer that I am today." (Listen to "The Little Things," performed by Oyen and his mother, Lois Sage. Sage also sings "Boys," a song Oyen said he "is really proud of.") "The first musical that really made me pay attention as a young man was Wicked," Oyen added of his musical influences. "It was my thirteenth birthday, I think, and my mom had gotten us house seats, and I was just floored by it. I definitely got the bug that day." Oyen considers Wicked writer Schwartz one of his mentors.

Aside from Outlaws, Oyen is also at work developing a musical about "suspiciously murderous Catholic school girls" entitled Immaculate Hearts, an untitled musical about a father and son who are separated by time and tragedy and a musical about the porn industry entitled Money$hot!" I just want a young person to someday be able to see something that I write and, love it or hate it, watch a story unfold." (Listen to "Where Do the Lonely Souls Go?," an autobiographical tune about being a musical theatre artist in New York City.)

Listen to "Minnesota Nice" from Immaculate Hearts:

Listen to the power-ballad "South I Used to Know" from Outlaws: