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Golan, who’s penned hits for Nicki Minaj, Keith Urban, Justin Bieber, Cee Lo Green, Lady Antebellum, Demi Lovato and Skylar Grey, among other artists, tells the entire story in a song cycle, accompanied only by his own guitar—with visual assistance from a dancer and a cinematic visual backdrop.
MURDER BALLADS
The Wrong Man Puts a Hit Songwriter on Stage for a Dark Tale of Crime and Punishment

"I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die." This oft-quoted line from Johnny Cash’s "Folsom Prison Blues" is the point of departure for The Wrong Man: An Underground Musical, composed and performed by Ross Golan, now playing at L.A.’s Skylight Theater.

Golan, who’s penned hits for Nicki Minaj, Keith Urban, Justin Bieber, Cee Lo Green, Lady Antebellum, Demi Lovato and Skylar Grey, among other artists, tells the entire story in a song cycle, accompanied only by his own guitar—with visual assistance from a dancer and an accomplished, cinematic visual backdrop that deepens the production’s film noir associations.

The narrative imagines that the murder of the title was indeed committed by a Man in Black, who then makes the innocent narrator (who’s had a torrid one-night fling with the killer’s ex-wife) his patsy. Beginning with Golan’s Reno chump, named simply Duran, on death row and moving backwards to relate its tale of ever-encroaching darkness, The Wrong Man unwinds its brutal tale entirely in song.

And what songs: Golan’s ability to compose with and for artists in every musical genre serves him beautifully here, as he calls on Hip-Hop, Rock, Pop, R&B, Salsa and numerous other forms to cast light and shadow on the play’s tragic arc, evoking poignancy, dread and laughs in equal measure.

The Chicago-area-bred tunesmith delivers this melodically rich and lyrically tricky material with aplomb, displaying a supple voice that periodically soars (as on the stunning "Put Your Hands Up") into Jeff Buckley territory. Other standouts from the show include the recurring motif "What Happens Here Stays Here," the mordantly funny "Walk of Shame," the Latin-accented "When Evil Men Go on the Run" and the despairing "Leaving Reno," in which Golan brings together strands from all the other songs into a moment of revelation, as his condemned hero’s life flashes before his eyes.

The only other performer onstage is dancer Jennifer Brasuell, who balances sexual ferocity and profound sadness—with wordless grace—as Duran’s ill-fated lover, Mariana. But it wouldn’t be unfair to describe the projected still and moving images that frame the production (which was adroitly directed and choreographed by Lee Martino) as a third character; this stylish, neon-lit imagery, courtesy of production designer Adam Flemming and videographer Michael Alan Hoy, is miraculously effective.

The Wrong Man runs at the Skylight through 3/16.

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