The Anatomy of a Best Song

What is it that makes the “Best Original Song” for a motion picture?

This year is a particularly fascinating year for Best Song.

There appears to be a clear front runner in La La Land, nominated for the maximum two songs – “Audition” and “City of Stars.” Being a “movie musical” (yes, in quotations) the songs function in a very clear and direct way, allowing their effectiveness and RTDW to be more objectively quantifiable. With two nominations, however, it runs the risk of cancelling itself out.

Furthermore, historically the academy has chosen songs by famous pop artists, which gives an edge to Justin Timberlake and Sting. Although THIS year, with the massive pop appeal of Hamilton, the prize could go to Lin-Manuel Miranda. So it’s really up in the air.

There is always going to be a large amount of subjectivity when evaluating a creative endeavor. Ideally, the law of averages works it out so that the opinions of an educated sample reflect the opinions of the educated majority.

Remember, though, that while the nominations are made by Academy members who are songwriters and composers, the winners are decided by the membership as a whole. (So beware Lin Manuel Miranda – the deciding vote may come down to a tone-deaf cinematographer.)

I’ve always thought that songs in motion pictures are a difficult thing to judge, and precisely because of that they are almost always a difficult award to predict. Add to that the bizarre and ever-changing rules which govern the nominations of songs, which results in years where only two songs (???) are even nominated.

I thought it might be interesting to go through the nominations and see how to evaluate them on the principles of the Academy. According to the voting rules of the Academy: Continue reading The Anatomy of a Best Song

Does This Sound Out of Tune to You?

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I remember in college walking down the hallways of UCLA’s Schoenberg Hall and hearing the ethnomusicology majors practicing their bizarre semi-tones. These “notes in between the notes” left me fascinated and a little unsettled. I preferred my more easily digested 12-tone scales, based comfortably around middle-A being tuned to the frequency of 440hz.

But according to an interesting article in The Daily Beast, it turns out that’s a relatively recent standardization of Western music, and – according to musical conspiracy theories (yes, there really is such a thing) – was propagated by the Nazis in order to move people towards “greater aggression, psycho social agitation, and emotional distress predisposing people to physical illness.”

Whaaaaa!? Continue reading Does This Sound Out of Tune to You?

See what the Tonys Inspire

6a012876c6c7fb970c01bb08264d7a970d-300wiThe Tony Awards always leave me inspired. I didn’t get to watch this years broadcast, but even just seeing the names of nominees and winners that are close to my heart fuels me to keep pushing ahead in this crazy business of show.

I’m especially inspired by the win of FUN HOME – a story we’ve never seen before on the musical stage – as it further widens the breadth of what stories a musical can tell. As it has for centuries, the theatre continues to have the power to give voice to all sorts of populations whose stories deserve to be told.

That’s why I’m so excited to premiere some brand new songs from JOE SHMOE SAVES THE WORLD as part of The Festival of New American Musical’s Musi-CAL series, celebrating new musicals written by SoCal writers.

The show is hosted by Rockwell Table & Stages in Los Feliz. It begins at 8pm and tickets start at only $15.

Come have a bite to eat and support new musical theatre performed by my incredible cast featuring Jonah Hill (American Idiot, Hair at the Hollywood Bowl), Alex Wyse (Masters of Sex, Broadway’s Lysistrata Jones), Ashley Argota (The Fosters), and Nicole Farnoush, as well as Kat Hennessey, Chris Meissner, Lyle Mackston, and Holly Howell.

Grab your tickets ahead of time – and I’ll see you there!

Don’t Be the Dope

Songs I Wrote Title Bar02-in-piano

I’m THRILLED to announce my first non-Murder for Two-related appearance in New York City!

On Saturday April 19th at 11pm, join me for a late-night party at 54 Below as I share SONGS i WROTE – an evening of highlights from my songbook.

Here’s what you’ll get to see:

Alex Brightman, Janet Krupin, George Salazar, and Mary Kate Morrissey.

JSSW CastThis sexy foursome singing songs from my latest musical-in-progress JOE SCHMOE SAVES THE WORLD – including 4 Brand-new never-before-heard songs!

Melissa van der Schyff, Claybourne Elder, Lesli Margherita, Julia Mattison, and Justin Matthew Sargent.

TKD CastThis foxy fivesome rocking tunes from my musical THE TAVERN KEEPER’S DAUGHTER.

Dakin MatthewsAnd a guest appearance by the guy from True Grit, Gilmore Girls, ROCKY Broadway, and pretty much every other TV show you’ve ever seen: Dakin Matthews.

Don’t be the dope who missed outGRAB YOUR TICKETS HERE!

 

TAVERN KEEPER’S is a Winner!

EPSON MFP imageThis week, the Pasadena Musical Theatre Program’s summer production of my musical THE TAVERN KEEPER’S DAUGHTER was voted Best Production by the readers of Pasadena Weekly – beating out works at both the highly regarded Boston Court Theatre and the major regional Pasadena Playhouse.

I’m very proud of everyone’s work on the production.  Congratulations!

Listen below to Lesli Margherita (Broadway’s Matilda) sing “Let Go!” from THE TAVERN KEEPER’S DAUGHTER.

 

Ridiculously Talented

I am Ridiculously Talented.

Or so says Tony-Award Broadway composer/lyricist William Finn.  As Artistic Producer of the Barington Stage Company’s Musical Theatre Lab, Finn hosts an annual concert called “Songs by Ridiculously Talented Composers and Lyricists You Probably Don’t Know But Should,” and this year he has chosen a song composed by me with lyrics by Brian Pugach.

I first encountered Brian Pugach’s work at the Celebration Theatre in Los Angeles, who produced his show The Next Fairy Tale.  We’ve since collaborated on two songs (his lyrics, my music) and have another on the way.

The song is called SAM TAKES PICTURES, and was performed this past weekend by Broadway actress Elizabeth Stanley.

Stay tuned for video of the concert, and recorded audio of the song.

Brian Pugach, Elizabeth Stanley
Elizabeth Stanley, Brian Pugach

 

I’ve Always Depended on the Kindness of Alison Fraser

Alison Fraser sings Tennessee Williams?Fraser_Alison_4_ret

This sounds like a great idea.

I’ve long been a fan of Alison Fraser’s buzzy, unique sound ever since I heard her in The Secret Garden and Falsettos.  I finally saw her onstage not too long ago in Gypsy and then School for Lies (a brilliant David Ives adaptation of Moliere at Classic Stage Company).

And now she’s going to The Tennessee Williams New Orleans Literary Festival to perform a one-woman show Only a Paper Moon: A Tennessee Williams Songbook.

As a big fan of Tennessee Williams as well, I SO wish I could see this.

My own experience at the Festival – premiering my one-act play WEÏRD, which won the festival a few years ago – was tremendous.  New Orleans is a town with a beautifully unique personality, and being there is like being right in the middle of a Tennessee Williams play.

 

DARLING wins New Musical Award

Emily Walton as Ursula
Emily Walton as Ursula

The Weston Playhouse Theatre Company is pleased to announce Darling as the winner of its seventh annual New Musical Award.

Written by Ryan Scott Oliver and Brett Ryback, Darling is a coming-of-age story about teenager Ursula Morgan, who leaves behind her upper-class family and finds herself in the seedy underground of Depression-era Boston — a world of sex, jazz and a mysterious drug called….fairy dust.

The piece, which was featured on the “Bound for Broadway” episode of NBC’s The Apprentice, was nominated for Weston’s prestigious national award by Director of Music at Pace New Musicals Robert Meffe who said of Darling: “The rock score is dark, edgy and contagious… The lyrics are intelligent, surprising and original…The book is a wildly different take on the Peter Pan story that will have audiences trying to uncover the allusions every night.”

The Weston Playhouse New Musical Award, the only one of its kind in the country, has become a highly sought-after prize. It supports new work by writers and composers of notable promise, chosen from a group of national nominations. Winners rehearse their work in Vermont under professional musical direction with a cast of exceptional actor/singers. After performing selections from Darling in concert on the Weston stage on March 2, Oliver, Ryback and their cast return to New York to perform at an invited concert and then to record a demo cd under the supervision of Kurt Deutsch of Sh-K-Boom Records.

Derek Klena as Peter
Derek Klena as Peter

The Vermont and New York concerts will be led under the musical direction of Chris Fenwick (Giant). The cast of rising Broadway talent includes Derek Klena (Dogfight) as Peter, Emily Walton (Peter and the Starcatcher) as Ursula, Julia Mattison (Godspell), Justin Keyes (How to Succeed…) and Max Chernin (NYMF’s Really Bad Things).

Continue reading DARLING wins New Musical Award

From the DARLING Sketchbook

Here’s one for the fans of my musical Darling, with Music & Lyrics by Ryan Scott Oliver.

peters-shadowFor those unacquainted with the show, Darling is a dark deconstruction of the Peter Pan story as told from the perspective of the “Wendy” character.  The show has gone through many different incarnations, and the current version resembles Peter Pan mostly in broad, thematic ways.

However, when first conceived, the show borrowed a lot more from the original J.M. Barrie story – including the characters John and Michael Darling.  Also, in the original stages of conception, it was not immediately apparent that Ryback and Oliver would work exclusively on either Book or Music/Lyrics.

Thus – this sketch of a song meant to be sung by John to his younger brother Michael was created by me.  I pulled it out of the drawer and recently set it to music for my concert The Kid With the Keys, which premiered this fall in Los Angeles.

Be sure to tell me what you think in the comments below!

We Made It Home

Our little web parody – ARGO! The Musical – made it as a featured video on the Funny or Die homepage! 

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And the even better news is – we’re still there!  If you scroll down their homepage, we’re the number one video in the Archive!

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If you haven’t watched the video – watch it now and click FUNNY!

If you have – go watch it again and click FUNNY!  The more Funny votes we get the better.

Now, Argo be fabulous!