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1/23/13

Ryan Scott Oliver is Flawless. And Bizarre. He's Flawzarre!

A fact that I have been pretty forthcoming about is this: I don't live in Manhattan. Or Queens. Or Brooklyn. I am central Long Island, born and raised. Why is this relevant? My roundtrip commute comes to about three hours...so when I want to see a show or a concert during the week, I am lucky if I am through my front door by 1:00am. Oh yeah...that's a good day. It takes a lot out of me to shuck an entire evening just for a 90-minute set. 

So when Rated RSO MT-17, a Joe's Pub concert featuring selections by Ryan Scott Oliver, came to an end on Monday evening, I knew I had a lovely ride on the LIRR to look forward to. Therefore, this concert really had to bring it before sending me back into the darkness (and given the current climate, the freezing cold).

C'mon, it's Ryan Scott Oliver...was he really going to get it wrong?


Simply put and not all that hyperbolically speaking, Ryan is the best. The 35MM song cycle recording has been on loop day-in and day-out since day one. On most mornings, one of his numbers is my alarm song. Because the first song of the day shouldn't make me want to punch a baby and for that, I have his well-rendered and astonishingly inspired music to remind me that 7:30 in the morning isn't too awful. The babies of the world owe him their gratitude.

I couldn't sing more praises about the guy if I wanted to (but that won't stop me from trying). In a time where quality new musical theater is batting at an unprecedentedly low number, RSO manages to serve up fully-realized, knockout number after knockout number. Monday evening was no different; hands down, one of the best concerts I have ever been to. Let me walk you through it...

-- First off, you can tell how much thought was put into the staging and direction - yes, a concert, of all things - because it was (1) designed enough to notice, without going overboard and (2) meticulous. The most obvious instance is the projection screen that featured accompanying photographs and/or a few lines of text providing the context of the song. The photos strike a balance between being too obvious and too subtle (and avoiding pretension altogether) and the story's themselves read so rich that it's hard not to be excited. All this and someone hasn't even opened his or her mouth to sing yet. How can a song be so awesome already, without even...you know, actually starting? Oh RSO, you minx...

-- The orchestrations are to die for, across every musical/song cycle featured. Some songs open with an uptempo, exciting beat, but the vast majority begin by grabbing a hold of your mind with intrigue and darkness and DRAMA. Not to mention, each one opens vastly different then the one before it, yet you can tell that it all came from the same songwriter. Talk about a focused point-of-view.

-- I'm not going to sugarcoat it...Oliver's music is deliberately dark as hell. Understatement, I know, but looking over most of his work, there are no songs about puppies or kittens or seahorses. And if there were, they would probably be getting kicked or assaulted or set on fire or dead. Or worse.

But therein lies the genius...in a time where Sweeney Todd's body count or gore factor is hardly edgy anymore, we now have a new avant-garde outlet. Look at Mrs Sharp, RSO's musical debut based on the Pamela Smart scandal and murder-trial. It's about a new high school teacher's continuing downward spiral as her marriage falls apart and a student's infatuation with her leads to...well, you can imagine. Yeah, Mamma Mia this ain't...


You thought I was kidding, didn't you? This exists...it is real.

-- It's also worth noting that RSO has a sharp eye out for undiscovered talent. According to YouTube, he doesn't shy away from featuring college students in musical theater programs or performers just starting out their post-education careers. Think about it: the origins of 35MM even go back a few years and the Broadway stars kicking ass today, such as Betsy Wolfe, Lindsay Mendez and Jay Armstrong Johnson to name a few, were RSO muses before they started scoring the principal roles.

Monday night featured a bunch of students from Pace University and similarly prestigious institutions. And how much you want to bet those bitches will be theater-famous in three or four years? Because they probably will be. Even with some talented singers in the bunch - Johnson, Alex Brightman, Bobby Steggert, Derek Klena - those boys and girls pulled their weight, slinking around Joe's Pub and belting their balls and vaginas off like seasoned ringers. Because wouldn't you if given the opportunity...


Bottoms Up!
-- YAY, we are now at the Team Alex Brightman portion. First off, his program biography reads as follows:

"Alex Brightman will be drinking bourbon during and after this performance."

Always one for words, that gent...c'mon, who read that and was not an instant fan of his? The crowd lost their shit when Alex opened the evening off with "Why Must We Tell Them Why?", which really is a crazy fun number. But what I loved is that Alex exploded on to the stage with a drink in his hand, never put it down and didn't spill a single drop. And then Jay A. Johnson joined him and pulled off the same feat. Like a couple of bosses. Bow down mortals.

-- Also, I love me some "Cut You a Piece," because it is beautiful and sad and has a lot of feelz and stuff, but Alex really shows off some impressive depth you wouldn't expect our favorite funnyman/badass to have. Oh, I got teary-eyed...I hold him accountable for his actions.

-- One last thing and then I'll shut up about him...getting distracted from Jay Armstrong Johnson's beautiful voice is a difficult task - especially when the song he is blasting is the amazing "Leave Luanne" - but Brightman managed to steal the show from him. While provided back-up vocals, he grinded and shimmied up the Joe's Pub support post. My astute observation was that alcohol was the cause. My head did a full 180 degrees to enjoy "The Alex Brightman Show." Never change, Alex, never change...

-- As for the rest of the songs...well, what can I say? I was crazy over every number and I have a whole bunch more to add to my iPhone. The Mrs Sharp, Jasper in Deadline and Darling numbers make me wish an Off-Broadway run and cast recording for any of these shows would be announced, like, tomorrow. And of course, the 35MM numbers were generally phenomenal. But I have to be a bitch and say something negative - sorry, I can't help it - but surprisingly enough, I have one minor criticism of "The Ballad of Sara Berry." The song was arranged to be more of a girl-power, Heathers sort of thing by featuring a whole stack of women and no men. As fabulous and fun as that was - it really was, TBOSB may be RSO's best number of all time - it got a little messy and cluttered at the final crescendo, as the music and lady voices just became a clusterfu** of noise. A minor complain - and even the worst RSO performance is still pretty darn solid and better then most people's best output - but I was shocked myself to realize that would be the one thing I was not as in love with as everything else.

-- And just when I thought we're all out of fun, the final number of the evening was this gorgeously sounding, invigorating pseudo-dance anthem that, even in the can of sardines that is Joe's Pub, made me want to get up and dance on any table I could. In a concert that is part "OMGosh art/inspiration," part rock concert, part "holy crazy balls" drama and suspense, we now have the perfect capstone to an already memorable night. Watching the cast flood the stage and audience and listening to the pitch perfect music and lyrics had me both smiling and bobbing my head. It turned into sadness a few seconds after the final note, because the night had finished. But whereas I would be dreading the train ride home, I was set this time...I had a an unforgettable night of music epicness and awesomeness to reflect on.


Video Credit: BwayWatcher

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