Innovative Musical Spotlights Renowned Photographer's Journey

A captivating musical is bringing the inspiring story of Matthew Murphy, a Montana-raised dance prodigy turned Broadway photographer, to center stage. "35mm: A Musical Exhibition" melds Murphy's evocative personal images with songs composed in response to the photographs. The University of Montana's talented Zootown Cabaret ensemble will perform the show November 17-18 in Missoula.

Murphy's journey resonates deeply in his hometown. The son of a professional tap dancer, Murphy pursued dance intensely from childhood. He reached heights like touring with the prestigious American Ballet Theatre before chronic illness forced him to reconsider his path at just 21. During recovery, Murphy found solace in photography, channeling his artistic spirit through a lens.

Murphy's setbacks proved formative, as he began documenting his personal struggle through raw, introspective portraits. These images caught the eye of his husband, the acclaimed composer Ryan Scott Oliver, who saw rich creative potential. Oliver crafted a song cycle directly inspired by Murphy's photos, spanning musical theater genres from power ballads to medieval chants.

The fusion of music and images creates a multimedia experience described as "innovative" and Oliver as "a major new voice" in musical theater. Murphy's photographs become characters themselves onstage, driving the emotional depth. So popular was the original Off-Broadway run that it was extended, where it again sold out. The show has been licensed across the world. For local audiences, Murphy's Missoula origins bring poignant meaning to his emergence as an artistic force.

As a photographer, Murphy has shot elite dance companies and Broadway shows, with his well-known Hamilton poster among renowned work. But the images propelling this musical come from Murphy's most personal periods. They lay bare his vulnerability during major life transitions.

This inside look at a photographer's self-discovery process shows the medium's power as a cathartic tool. Through the lens, Murphy reframed devastating setbacks into an opportunity for growth. His willingness to explore raw emotion, paired with photographic skill, produces affectingly honest art.

Murphy's journey affirms photography's potential to help navigate life's unforeseen pitfalls. By bravely confronting adversity, he transforms hardship into hope. His photographs speak to universal human truths through specific personal experience. This unique musical brings Murphy's outlook to life by pairing photos with songs unpacking their layered narratives.

The student performers from Zootown Cabaret breathe new vitality into Murphy's images through Oliver's imaginative compositions. Murphy's photography defined a new creative path forward; this show now pays tribute by spotlighting his work's emotive power. Particularly profound is that Missoula is Murphy's hometown. You can watch an excerpt from another production of the show above. 

Alex Cooke's picture

Alex Cooke is a Cleveland-based portrait, events, and landscape photographer. He holds an M.S. in Applied Mathematics and a doctorate in Music Composition. He is also an avid equestrian.

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