Composer Ryan Scott Oliver’s 2012 multimedia song cycle “35MM: A Musical Exhibition” receives an admirable treatment from Dare to Defy Productions through Oct. 8 in the Mathile Theatre of the Schuster Center.
(left to right) Zach King, Natalie Sanders, Alan Ruddy, Danielle Kubasky, and Skyler McNeely rehearse Dare to Defy Productions’ presentation of “35MM: A Musical Exhibition,” a song cycle bridging the worlds of music and photography.
Unique in concept but lacking cohesive depth, “35MM” uses a series of eclectic photographs by Matthew Murphy to tell intriguing, hilarious and occasionally confusing tales of romance, connection, disillusionment, and hope. Overall, this vignette-driven showcase is at its best when love dominates the conversation. For instance, a song centered on a photo of a couple at odds on a playground swing set is certainly more enticing than a song built on the oddities of a kooky doll. Perhaps if Oliver would have created his song cycle based solely on the ups and downs of relationships, the results would have been more distinctive and relatable. Some of the songs are not perfectly matched to the photos as well which halts momentum. Nevertheless, his ambitious work beckons the audience to examine the trials and tribulations of life through focus, perspective and the sheer passage of time.
Director AJ Breslin helms Oliver and Murphy’s world with very little interference. Due to the Mathile’s intimacy, this breezy production instantly conjures a cozy, coffee shop vibe which suits the show’s introspective nature and important attention to projections. Breslin’s minimalist, straightforward approach clearly allows each song to speak for itself, but at the same rate it’s difficult to hear some of the more frenzied lyrics. Still, his committed, energetic and passionate five-member cast, taking on the vocal challenges of the harmonically intricate score with vim and verve under the music direction of David McKibben, joins forces with ample opportunities to entertain. Natalie Sanders and Zach King, a volatile Queenie and Burrs last season in Dare to Defy’s “The Wild Party,” winningly reunite for the spirited “Make Me Happy.” Sanders, looking as statuesque as ever in basic black, wonderfully opens the show with “Stop Time” and notably drives the dark high school drama of “The Ballad of Sara Berry” with gusto. It’s also great to see Alan Ruddy and Danielle Kubasky reuniting for the first time since appearing as and Princeton and Kate Monster in Beavercreek Community Theatre’s 2015 production of “Avenue Q,” Ruddy, effectively balancing comedy and poignancy throughout, strongly renders “The Seraph” while Kubasky shines in “Twisted Teeth.” Skyler McNeely, who appeared with Sanders in Sinclair Community College’s 2015 production of “Songs for a New World,” teams with Kubasky for a terrifically emotive rendition of the heartbreaking “Hemming & Hawing” chronicling the twisted complications and imperfections of love. Keyboardist Nick Garvin leads a fine five-piece band.
The contemporary pop/rock/punk essence of “35MM” may not appeal to musical theater fans more inclined to embrace Rodgers and Hammerstein, but it’s a prime example of Dare to Defy’s eagerness to look outside the box.
“35MM: A Musical Exhibition” continues Oct. 7 at 8 p.m. and Oct. 8 at 2 and 8 p.m. inside the Mathile Theatre of the Schuster Center, Second and Main Streets, Dayton. The production is performed in 80 minutes without intermission. Tickets are $19.50-$24.50. For tickets or more information, call Ticket Center Stage at (937) 228-3630 or visit ticketcenterstage.com. Patrons are reminded the show contains adult language.