Updated: Sep 16, 2022
A Musical and a Photography Exhibit, in One Show
By Dana Hammer
Like many people who make weird life choices, I majored in art history in college. While this did nothing to prepare me for the world of business, it gave me a deep and wide appreciation for art, especially art that I cannot do, such as photography.
Photography is a remarkable thing, isn’t it? And photographers are more amazing still. They have the ability to snatch a perfect second in time and immortalize it. Not only do they have an almost preternatural sense of timing, they know color, composition, and how to set the mood they want. Photographers are basically magicians, and I kind of worship them.
But there’s only one problem.
Photographs can lie.
There exists a picture of me and my friends at a fancy tea experience. (I won’t name it, because I’m not trying to shame anyone. But it was expensive.) We are all dressed up in period costumes, and we look — though I do say so myself — freaking lovely. We are smiling and happy. If you didn’t know any better, you’d think it was the most fantastic tea party ever thrown. But the reality is, we were all suffering through the most disgusting food I’ve eaten, maybe ever. “How do you mess up tea food?” you might ask. “It’s just sandwiches and scones.” That is a very good question, and one to which I have not received a satisfactory answer.
After the “food” was over, we headed straight to McDonalds. But that McDonald’s trip, and the gagging down of terrible flavorless gel and bread that was an affront to God — all of that is missing from the picture. The picture doesn’t tell the whole story.
The musical “35MM,” written by Ryan Scott Oliver, does something radical and fun. It attempts to tell the whole story behind a series of photographs taken by Matthew Murphy. During the musical, photographs are displayed on a screen for the audience to see, and songs and scenes are played out, illustrating the full story behind the images.
When I asked Shayna Sternin, the musical director, what drew her to this musical, she had this to say: “The soundtrack. I got hooked the first time I listened to it. ‘35mm, a Musical Exhibition’ has it all: exciting group numbers, moving solos, pop/rock with some folk and choral flair, and stories that could make you laugh and cry. It’s no wonder why I jumped at the chance to Music Direct.”
It’s such an innovative and cool concept for a musical. I asked if she had a favorite musical number and she said: “‘Leave Luanne’ gives me chills every time I hear it. The story of a woman’s flight from her abusive marriage is told through a raucous country song. Luanne haunts me. Conversely, ‘Cut You a Piece’ turns a tragic love story into a uniquely hopeful message. It’s sad, but deeply comforts me.”
These aren’t boring, basic stories about that time that guy took that selfie because he thought it looked cool. They are fraught with emotion, pathos, and depth. And, as art is wont to do, it makes something beautiful and moving out of pain.
Because many of these songs and scenes deal with serious issues, it might not be advisable for small children. Sternin says: “Due to some darker themes, including references to death, violence, and spousal abuse, I would not recommend this show for children ages 12 and under. I encourage anyone who may feel unsure to look up the song lyrics and determine their comfort.”
But, most people will love it. Sternin continues: “Anyone who’s dealing with heartbreak (who isn’t?) but still wants to rock out should see this musical. I hope audiences will walk away entertained and with something to discuss.”
I know I’ve dealt with my share of heartbreak, and I’m ready to rock — and to see the part of the story that photographs leave untold.
Dana Hammer is a writer and local theater enthusiast living and working in Orange County.
presented by Phantom Projects Theatre Group
Location: La Habra Depot, 311 S. Euclid, La Habra, CA 90631
Run Dates: September 9-18, 2022
Tickets: $25-$35; La Habra residents save 25%; Student and Senior tickets are $10, in Tier 3