“Why must we justify?
Let’s defy their forms and fixtures…”
There’s something about choosing a song cycle as your form that automatically feels like a declaration that the entertainment that lies ahead is going to be a mixed bag, some hits and the possibility of some misses in a willfully diverse collection, loosely connected by an overarching theme. And so it proves with Ryan Scott Oliver’s 35mm: A Musical Exhibition, currently getting a short run in The Other Palace’s studio space.
The hook here is that the 15 songs are each inspired by a photograph taken by Broadway photographer Matthew Murphy, allowing for the exploration of any (and all) aspect of human nature and the adoption of any musical style he wishes. An exponent of new musical theatre writing, Scott Oliver calls to mind something of the complexity of Michael John LaChiusa’s compositions and equally brings the same kind of challenges.
For this is modern musical theatre, probing into rock and folk as much as showtunes and pizzazz, and as with any collection so mixed, there are going to be some songs which work much better for you than others. 35mm can thus prove a rather uneven show to experience particularly as the connection to the photographs doesn’t always feel as fully exploited as it could be, especially lyrically.
Adam Lenson’s production has cast wisely though, meaning that even if a track isn’t musically your bag, its performance is guaranteed to be engaging. Maisey Bawden, Gregor Duncan, George Maguire, Christina Modestou and the Stage Debut award-winning Samuel Thomas all take their moments – Thomas’ ‘Cut You A Piece’ and Modestou’s ‘The Party Goes With You’ got my personal vote, and ‘The Seraph’ is a hauntingly beautiful number that Duncan and Thomas really shine.
So it ain’t a traditional musical and to criticise it for not being so is to miss the point – 35mm is doing something different here and it should be appreciated for that. That doesn’t automatically make it a perfect show but it does make it an interesting one.