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

By Michael Gioia
09 Oct 2012

Ryan Scott Oliver

Composer-lyricist Ryan Scott Oliver, a 2009 Jonathan Larson Grant recipient and a 2008 Rodgers Award winner, describes his sound as "dark, twisted, intricate and fun," which is especially evident in his recently released "musical exhibition" 35mm. Oliver explained, "If Quentin Tarantino and Tim Burton had a baby, and that baby wrote music, I would hope that what I write would sound similar to that baby's music." 35mm, a work inspired by the photography of Matthew Murphy, was seen earlier this year at Brooklyn's Galapagos Art Space. It tells stories of a blood-thirsty Prom Queen nominee ("The Ballad of Sara Berry"); a nightwalker's love affair with her vampire-like admirer ("Twisted Teeth," performed here by Spring Awakening veterans Emma Hunton and Matt Doyle); and a trip to "Crazytown" (performed here by Alex Brightman, Jay Armstrong Johnson, Natalie Weiss and Lindsay Mendez), a mystically risqué place inspired by the lands of Wonderland, Oz, Narnia and Neverland.

His other works include the award-winning Mrs. Sharp, based on the uncomfortably true story of the 1991 teacher-student sex scandal and murder trial surrounding Pamela Smart (Check out "What I Wouldn't Do For You" performed by Brightman); Darling, which follows teenager Ursula Morgan, who leaves town with a boy on the run and is swept into the seedy underground (check out "Lost Boy" also performed by Brightman); and Jasper in Deadland, in which 16-year-old Jasper travels into the afterlife to retrieve his best friend. Currently in Chicago, Oliver is at work on The Frog Prince, Cont., a project commissioned by the Emerald City Theatre, plus a completely new work commissioned by Broadway Across America that he is "so passionate about [he] can hardly stand it," entitled We Foxes.

"As a kid, I was really struck by early and mid-20th century opera and choral literature," said Oliver, whose tracks are often backed by haunting orchestrations. "[Benjamin] Britten's Midsummer [and] Peter Grimes; [Gian Carlo] Menotti's The Medium, Amahl and the Night Visitors [and] A Hand of Bridge (with composer Samuel Barber); [Leonard] Bernstein's Trouble in Tahiti and Chichester Psalms; and [Carl] Orff's Carmina Burana really set a stage for me as a musical dramatist." He said that his style is represented best by "Leave, Luanne," a seven-minute song from 35mm that tells the story about a woman who must find the courage to leave her abusive partner.

Listen to "Leave, Luanne," performed by Johnson, from 35mm:

"Leave Luanne"




Listen to "The Ballad of Sara Berry," performed by Mendez, on the 35mm album: 

"The Ballad of Sara Berry"



The cast of 35mm.
photo by Kevin Thomas Garcia