For Out of the Box Theatre Company, contemporary musicals are the thing, no matter how innovative and unorthodox they may be. With a production track record that includes Heathers the Musical, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, Carrie, and even Stephen Sondheim’s strange and creepy Assassins, the group has developed a reputation in Santa Barbara for traveling fearlessly into the far reaches of the new musical repertoire. As a result, it comes as no surprise that their latest show, 35MM: A Musical Exhibition, which opens on March 31 at Center Stage Theater and runs until April 9, represents something unprecedented, not only for Santa Barbara but for the musical as a genre. Working from a set of images created by his partner, professional photographer Matthew Murphy, the young composer and lyricist Ryan Scott Oliver has woven a tapestry of individual songs, each of which tells a complete story yet can be taken together to imply a sophisticated worldview.
At a recent press preview, cast members sang several selections from the show, each of which demonstrated Oliver’s quirky, Broadway-meticulous yet pop-friendly style. In “Caralee,” which responds to a headshot of a cross-eyed baby doll, Willie Simpson took us on a wild joyride that included some wicked twists and many big laughs. Christopher Short and Shannon Saleh teamed up for “Hemming and Hawing,” a brutal reflection on a failing relationship that shows Oliver’s writing at its most intricately biting best. Lyrics like “She wouldn’t pull away, like you did today, though you know I like PDA” reveal a character who is at the end of his rope but still has it together enough to land multiple internal rhymes in a single line. The song’s closing exclamation, “Goddamn, I hate you, heart,” reveals the full extent of this character’s ambivalence by asserting that it’s his own heart, and not his partner, that has really betrayed him.
Out of the Box artistic director Samantha Eve described the process that led to choosing 35MM as one that was primarily driven by the quality of the show’s music. Although the show only received a single short run at Brooklyn’s Galapagos performance loft, the cast for that production was stellar, and a cast album was recorded and released, allowing directors to hear what Oliver had created. When the Samuel French company announced that the show would be available for licensing, Out of the Box jumped at the chance, becoming one of four productions taking place nationally this spring, and the only one in Southern California. The cast also includes Tad Murroughs, Kelly Sparrman, and Zachary Thompson. Kacey Link is the music director, and Theodore Michael Dolas is lighting the show and coordinating the projections of the photos, which are an integral part of the score.
35MM: A Musical Exhibition will be presented cabaret style, with table seating and beverages available, at Center Stage Theater March 31-April 9. For tickets and information, call (805) 963-0408 or visit outoftheboxtheatre.org.