Julian Eaves takes a look at Crazytown : The World of Ryan Scott Oliver which is being presented at The Other Palace Studio on Monday 26 March 2018.
There’s a welcome return to London coming up for the multi-talented Ryan Scott Oliver, one of the most original – and accomplished – musical theatre voices in New York. Having made a sensational splash in this building last year in the debut staging of ‘35MM: A Musical Exhibition‘, and a kind of love-letter to his husband-to-be, the photographer Matthew Murphy: in fact, it remains his one non-commissioned work; everything he has done has been to order. Anyway, the same team that made that remarkable show such a hit – director Adam Lenson and MD Joe Bunker – have gone the whole hog and turned themselves into producers as well, in order to ensure that this show gets before the public.
And what a feast we are promised. There is a stunning line-up of 15 performers, supported by a band of half a dozen players. Those performing include three of the original London cast of ’35MM’, Christina Modestou, Gregor Duncan and the award-winning Sam Thomas, who will reprise several numbers from that show, and be heard in new material. Oliver has written a clutch of shows (the music, the lyrics, and often the books), many of which are getting their first London airing here: there will be extracts from ‘We Foxes’ (the massive, ambitious work that so nearly got a reading at this venue last year), the psychological thriller ‘Rope’, and the response to the Peter Pan story ‘Darling’, as well as ‘Jasper in Deadland’, and there are world premieres of a handful of songs that have never been performed anywhere else. If that isn’t enticing, I don’t know what is.
The event has drawn a spectacular roster of talent to interpret these terrifically varied and perfectly realised numbers. West End and National Theatre rising star, Alex Young, appears, as does the lush-voiced Alexia Khadime. Northern European star Anton Zetterholm makes a welcome arrival on our scene here, as does veteran of an earlier RSO concert in this house (as the St James’s Theatre) Jill Rensing. Other interesting new personalities feature Brummie singer-songwriter Matt Kane and newcomers Jasmine Hackett and Nick Brittain. And from New York we get songwriter Ethan Carlson, fresh from promoting new RSO work at Madame Mathieu’s and classical US actress Charlotte Forster. We also get British singer-songwriter and actress Cassie Compton and actress and mimic Holly Richard-Smith. Not only that, we also get to experience the great man himself, Ryan Scott Oliver, in this show.
His amazing range may be understood through the filter of Oliver’s belief that everything can be musicalized ‘until proven guilty’ (‘of’, as he likes to put it, ‘being dialogue’). Yet, what he loves writing most is the book – the spoken dialogue – and respects most this aspect of work in any collaborator. Always searching for musical moments to ‘explode’, or opportunities to bring in a reprise, he is convinced that any show ‘wants to be about ideas and feelings and themes. If you can’t find an opportunity for a song, you’ve probably written a scene which is too play-like for the music stage. As he says, ‘When I work with a book writers, I always hope we can share the story together. Some book writers feel they are ‘in charge’ of the story and the composers and lyricists are ‘song monkeys’ (ha-ha!). Collaboration is my favourite thing in all realms – working with Adam and Joe on this upcoming concert has been a treat, even on a producing angle, even across the pond.’
Complementing this enthusiasm, director Adam Lenson is a huge fan of Oliver’s, calling him ‘a dazzlingly original voice in new American musical theatre’. He is not alone in noticing his technical mastery. Ryan himself identifies a principle drive of his as the attraction of mathematics: the balancing of equations and the solving of problems, and the organic, creative manipulation of all the parts and variables that musical theatre presents, and the multi-tasking oversight they demand. He makes all his own arrangements, doing what he can to persuade producers to let him have the instrumental resources he wants, to create sounds that are vaultingly ambitious, and, according to Lenson, ‘equalled only by his profound emotional honesty’. The director loved launching the world stage premiere of ’35MM’ last year in the same space, and is looking forward to continuing their collaboration into future projects. His association with Joe Bunker goes back a good way further: both are familiar figures in new musical theatre, and especially in the drama schools, where so much new work gets tried out.
So, it’s quite a pack, bringing us an extraordinarily wide range of skills to do justice to the incredible sweep and variety of Ryan’s remarkable oeuvre. There will be a very mixed bag of numbers, with plenty of complicated backing vocals to amaze and delight: clearly, for such a presentation the best are required and we are lucky that these two leading figures of the new British musical theatre scene, Lenson and Bunker, have gathered them together under one roof, for one night only. Don’t miss it!