They say a picture is worth 1,000 words, but what about a song? Can one picture inspire a song? How about fifteen photos? Each photo creates a different song completely disconnected from the other creating fifteen different and unique moments frozen in time; a glimmer of a life unfolding, a glimpse of something happening. A stunning new musical comes to the Stillpointe Theatre Initiative, taking you on several visually and aurally pleasing journeys as the cast explores a groundbreaking new concept in 35mm: A Musical Exhibition. With music and lyrics by Ryan Scott Oliver and the photographs provided by Matthew Murphy, this intricately woven collection of stories told through song inspired by pictures comes to life through the carefully inspired direction of Ryan Haase. With a powerful orchestra to support the music this show has something for everyone in each of its distinctive numbers; audiences will not be disappointed with this new evolving work.
Coming fresh from the Galapagos Art Space in Brooklyn New York not but a month ago, already this new work is shifting and growing through this new production. The play was originally done on a blank stage with just microphones and already Haase has begun to incorporate staging, blocking, and props as well as a little dancing, giving this new piece room to expand upon itself. The journey is exhilarating – the actors moving you through each song with intense expressions and emotional voices. And each song becomes its own entity; a new show, a brief segment from some larger thing, perhaps, the experience is almost surreal and exciting, unlike any take on musical theatre I’ve ever seen before.
The pictures are not related, other than that they were all taken by the same man, and that they all became the inspiration for a song. And the songs are not related except that they are all vibrant expressions of a rainbow of emotions. When pieced together, however disjointedly, this musical is a thought-provoking, soul-searching exploration of two mediums fused together as one.
Haase has laid the pictures out for all to see, not only are they a part of the program you receive upon entering the performance space, but they are mounted in various areas on the main wall of the stage along with key props and scenery to highlight each one. And blending well with the visual aesthetics of this show are the orchestrations. Five musicians: Steven Bainbridge, Matt Berlin, Katie Dubino, Brian Loeper, and Mandee Ferrier Roberts take up the task of providing life to these intense scores. The orchestra lays the ground work for this show, creating an electrifying sound that shoots through the audience.
There are intense group numbers featuring the powerful ensemble that really move the audience. “Stop Time” – the opening to the show – features all the cast members singing in a cacophony of harmonies that really set the bar for the vocal ferocity of the performance. The ensemble radiates emotion in songs like “Leave, Lou-Anne,” where they creep up from the background suddenly surging forth as one masterful voice sweeping over the audience like a tsunami. They even get physically carried away in the makeshift choreography of the show during numbers like “Ballad of Sara Berry” and “Crazy Town,” displaying moments of sheer insanity as they throw themselves about the stage.
With such a variety of songs production gives the actors a chance to showcase their vocal talents. We see Nicholas Staigerwald showing off his flair for the dramatic in “Caralee” where he sings a humorous jaunty tune about being a gay father who is saddled with the spawn of Satan for a child. Staigerwald shows us his ability to be dynamic, slipping easily from this number early in the show into an angelic serenade, “The Seriph” just before the intermission. His voice drifts up to ceiling as if he were calling to that unknown angel, guided by a light that we can’t see; a serene voice that feels soothing and peaceful to hear.
There is another very tranquil number in the show “Mama Let Me In” which features immaculate four-part harmonies sung by Staigerwald, Britt Olsen-Ecker, Jayne Harris, and Michael Perrie Jr. These performers pour their agonized soul into this song, each lost in their own grievous connection to the sin of the song. Along with four-part harmony we get harrowing emotional beauty from the duet “Heming and Hawing” featuring Harris and Perrie Jr. The pure sorrow of indecision flows from their voices like a dulcet river washing over the audience like slow floodwaters that rise up in the spring; the moment when their eyes lock in the song creates a great swell of feeling to the point of tears in their eyes.
A duet of a different energy hits the stage in “Make Me Happy” with Perrie Jr. facing off against Danielle Robinette. The pair has a vicious sarcasm about their words as they sing about how each partner truly makes them happy. It’s a fun number with little comic zingers to keep the audience on their toes and is a great solo piece for Robinette to belt her enormous voice across the house. Another fun-loving duet, though much slower and flowing with a subdued energy comes during the number “Twisted Teeth.” Britt Olsen-Ecker sings a quirky romantic ballad about the man whose love is sucking her dry, featuring Corey Hennessey as the vampire. Hennessey prowls around her on the stage, really fitting the vampire persona as he leans in to steal a love bite during the blossoming crescendos of her chorus.
But the two songs that draw the most attention are large group numbers that feature talented solo performers. “The Ballad of Sara Berry” is a dark and twisted number about a vengeful high school prom queen. The fierce upbeat rhythm will have your foot stompin’ as the ensemble demands “…check Sara…vote Sara…” over and over again. Amanda Rife brings this song a sweet and dirty justice with her powerful bellowing sound as she stands above the rest as the bitchy prom queen, each word laced with malice and wicked intent as she sings. The other riveting song happens late in act II, “Leave, Lou-Anne.” This song is haunting and somewhat ghoulish as the orchestra fires to life a tune dark and sinful. Featuring Alex Cecchetti as the main singer and Olsen-Ecker as the silent actor this song gives you chills. Cecchetti sings with menacing facial expressions, his interactions with Olsen-Ecker enough to make your skin crawl as the story of an abused house wife unfolds. The raging sound of the ensemble carries hard here as the number explodes with Cecchetti’s soulful voice echoing the horrors that have come to be; the best number in the entire show.
So don’t miss your chance to see this unforgettable experience because this is a limited engagement. You haven’t really seen how musically expressive photographs can be until you’ve seen 35mm: A Musical Exhibition.
Running Time: One hour and 15 minutes with one intermission.
35mm: A Musical Exhibition plays through Sunday April 15, 2012, at Stillpointe Theatre Initiative at Gallery 788/La Caja Estudios – 1111 Hollins Street, in Baltimore, MD. All performances begin at 8:00pm. Tickets: $15 cash only. To reserve tickets, call (410) 236-5773, or purchase them at the door.
Watch and listen to “Crazytown” being performed by Alex Brightman, Jay Armstrong, Lindsay Mendez, and Natalie Weiss. Piano: Paul Staroba. Guitar: Matt Hinkley, and Cello: Emily Hope Price.
Watch and listen to ‘The Ballad of Sara Berry” performed by Natalie Weiss, Alex Brightman, Lindsay Mendez, and Jay Armstrong.