On February 7, 2011, I attended Ryan Scott Oliver's sold-out "Songbook Release Concert" at Joe's Pub. Ryan Scott Oliver is one of today's rising songwriters/composers and tonight the performers he had really demonstrated why Ryan is on the rise.
Ryan has his own way of writing music and that is what makes Ryan's music so great! With songs about love, hope, fear, and loss, Ryan doesn't try to be the next anybody, he just tries to be himself. He's fortunate because he achieves it! Ryan also knows how to choose the right performers to sing his music. He assembled quite a roster of rising theatre performers to help bring his music to life!
Starting off the night was Lindsay Mendez, Alex Brightman, Jay Armstrong Johnson and Grace Wall singing "The Ballad of Sara Berry" from Ryan's musical "35MM." This song is about a girl who is feeling the pressure from her family to be crowned prom queen, forcing her to resort to many different tactics to win, including murder. Lindsay used her skilled vocals to take the audience through the many emotions and events running through Sara Berry leading to the ultimate win...but to find out what that ultimate win is, you'll have listen to the song for that!
Continuing on the high that was left by Lindsay, was Grace Wall who sang "A Hypochondriac's Song" about a girl who is plagued by her fear of death, she struggles through everyday life as she strives to find a man who will put up with her crazy phobias from Ryan's musical "Out Of My Head." Grace's beautiful voice shined as she brought this girls fear and hopes to life. Alex Brightman was the next performer to dazzle the audience. He was on fire belting the crazy out of "Lost Boy" from Ryan's musical "Darling." "Lost Boy" is a new take on "Peter Pan" where Peter recounts the hardships in his life that made him feel as if he doesn't belong. I'm not even sure Alex needed a microphone tonight, but it just added to the vocal power that radiated from Alex and mesmerized the audience.
Next up was "Crayon Girl" from Ryan's musical "Out Of My Head." Sung by Jessica Hershberg, "Crayon Girl" is about an artist who struggles to translate her visions onto paper and starts to question whether or not she should continue her career as an artist due to the negativity she receives from her mother. Jessica scored big with this song allowing the audience to really feel everything "Crayon Girl" was going through. (On a personal note: This song reminds me I should ask more often "Was there ever at time a you thought about quitting and if so what career would you choose?)
Taking the stage right after Jessica was Andrew Keenan-Bolger who sang "Stupid Boys," a song Ryan wrote about a guy who is anxiously waiting for his love interest to call, but while waiting, this man proclaims that boys are stupid; however when he realizes his "Special Someone" isn't going to call, the guy recognizes that he, in fact, is the stupid one. This song should be released as a single, it's so identifiable. I know many people, myself included, who have been in this exact situation. Through his voice, Andrew brilliantly displayed the emotions of anticipation, hope, excitement, disappointment, and ultimately realization of what that this guy was feeling.
I'm not quite sure the audience was ready for what happened next, but the phenomenal brilliance that is Katie Thompson took the stage. If it were possible to dazzle an audience beyond captivation, then Katie Thompson did just that when she took Ryan's song "To Do" (about a hopeful romantic who vows to move forward after a series of unrequited loves) and not only reworked the arrangements, but riffed the roof right off of Joe's Pub. In all my years of seeing people sing, I have never seen the talent and skill that is Katie Thompson's musical talent and vocal ability. She is one of a kind and Ryan is genius for having her perform it like only Katie can do!
Following Katie, were Jay Armstron Johnson and Alex Brightman who sang "Halfway," a song written by Ryan about two lovers who live on opposite coasts meet each other in the middle of the country, their anticipation building as the separate road trips progress. Through their body language and voices, Jay and Alex really took the audience on this road trip allowing us to believe they were really lovers coming to meet.
Ryan definitely delighted me on many levels with tonight's show, but one of my many favorite moments came when Lindsay Mendez performed "Make Me A Picture Of The Sun" (A setting of Emily Dickinson's classic poem) because Ryan introduced this song by saying the arrangements and music were influenced by "Sooner or Later" from the motion picture "Dick Tracy," which happens to be one of my favorite songs sung by Madonna. Lindsay's voice guided the words perfectly, making this song just as beautiful as Lindsay's voice.
Grace Wall came back to the stage and sang "On Monday" from Ryan's musical "35MM." "On Monday" is about a fast-moving girl who learns that the greatest love takes the greatest while. Once again, another brilliant song by Ryan that should be released as a single because so many people I know, including myself, get so excited when we find someone we really like and want to rush it along, but have to remember to stop and let love take it's course. Grace did just that...she let the audience stop and enjoy her voice while she led us down this path of inspiration.
Continuing on the path of inspiration was Colin Donnell singing "What It's Worth" from Ryan's musical "Out Of My Head." "What It's Worth" is about a man who proclaims that when you love someone, you sometimes need to go through the painful process of letting them go. Colin's vocal skills definitely brought together the emotions of love and loss, allowing his voice to guide him and the audience through this painful process. (I bet if I asked this character, If you could dream about anyone while you sleep, who would it be, he would answer the love he let go).
Bringing the evening to a comedic halt was none other than Jeff Hiller (who many of you will remember Jeff's grand comedic moments as "John Quincy Adams" in Broadway's "Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson"). When Jeff enters a room or walks out on stage, there is no doubt that laughter will be close behind and tonight did not disappoint. Jeff sang "The Plane (is Going Down)" a song by Ryan Scott Oliver about a man who is forced to face his fear of flying when he is asked to go on a business trip. A common fear amongst people, Ryan has very smartly taken a serious subject and turned into a song that allows one to share it in a light and fun way. Leave it to Jeff Hiller to bring the light and fun to it. From his vocal inflection to his facial expressions to his body language, Jeff had the sold-out crowd in stitches! When I interviewed Jeff last October he mentioned in his interview that he was taking voice lessons...well let me tell you, those voice lessons have clearly paid off because Jeff's voice was in FINE SHAPE! I hope Jeff does more concerts so more people can hear just how great of singer he is!
Bringing back the serious, but with much hope was Krysta Rodriguez who sang "The View From Here" from Ryan's musical "Darling." "The View From Here" has 16-year-old Ursula Morgan sitting on her windowsill, reflecting on her neglected childhood and hopes for a better future. Krysta's voice is gorgeous and she knows how to use it bringing the much needed emotion to this sad, but uplifting song.
Ryan totally surprised the audience when he premiered a new song "Agnes" which is about a boy named Jasper who journeys through the Afterlife intent on rescuing his recently deceased best friend Agnes. In this song, he is attempting to persuade the three-headed guard dog Cerberus to allow him passage. To premiere this song, Ryan brought Alex Brightman back to the stage, which was a wise choice because Alex has the stellar vocal talents to communicate Ryan's musical message.
Closing the night was Eric Michael Krop, Grace Wall, Katie Gassert, Michael Lowney, and Geoff Kidwell singing "Odyssey," a multi-genre song about a soldier who abandons a defeated, war-torn land, returning home to the comfort of his lover. Eric Michael Krop was the perfect choice for this song as his vocal skills cross many genres (which he demonstrates well on his EP "Run") and perfectly showed the wariness of soldier's fight coupled with the excitement of coming home to his lover.
What made tonight so special for me, personally, was the fact that out of the 16 performers singing, I have been fortunate to interview almost half of them for "Adaumbelle's Quest" (the songwriter/composer himself Ryan Scott Oliver, Jeff Hilller, Andrew Keenan-Bolger, Lindsay Mendez, Eric Michael-Krop, and Katie Thompson). It was a huge delight for me to see my fellow participants strut their stuff and belt out their songs, but it was also great to be introduced to many other talented performers including Alex Brightman, Colin Donnell, Jessica Hecksberg, Jay Armstrong Johnson, Krysta Rodriguez, and Grace Wall.
The next time Ryan Scott Oliver has a concert, I highly suggest checking it out because not only will you hear enjoyable music, but you will be treated to a host of talent on the rise who will be entertaining us for years to come!