The Craft on Display at Jasper in Deadland

You know I have great respect for everyone that works in the theatre industry, right down to the usher kind enough to direct me to my seat. With that in mind and having paid visit to over 150 shows in my lifetime, I have seen writers/composers/directors in the audience of their own show glancing at their watch waiting to bail or doing interviews/talk-backs and look like this whole theatre-thing is inconvenient for them. I have seen actors/actresses on an off-day(s), or even TV/Movie stars venturing to live-theatre and not embracing the medium at all. Why? Feel free to ask them, but as a general rule, just because someone finds his/her name listed in the show’s program or is working in the industry, that doesn’t automatically indicate they want or are excited to be there.

As far as the band, cast and crew of Jasper in Deadland - and by extension, the creative team of composer Ryan Scott Oliver, book-writer Hunter Foster and director Brandon Ivie - that is not the case. Look at what is happening on that stage and you’ll notice that those bitches are having the time of their lives…and want you to, as well.

It was basically a foregone conclusion I would appreciate Jasper in Deadland’s presence in this spring’s theatre-scope. But as far as enjoying the show itself? A likely outcome - especially given my love for Ryan Scott Oliver’s music - but it wasn’t guaranteed. I’m happy to report, even with unusually high expectations for a new musical, that the show does not disappoint. Not. Even. Close. Passion and excitement are oozing off that stage and taking you on a journey of a lifetime deadtime something.

The instant-appeal of the show lies in its origins - the title character is, essentially, a modernized interpretation of Orpheus from the Greek myth. Except, instead of heading to the underworld to rescue his wife Eurydice, Jasper, a high-school swimmer corroded with ANGST to the ninth power, is attempting to rescue his best friend Agnes, who’s descent to Deadland may have been as a result of Jasper’s negligence. You don’t need to have a mild fascination in Greek mythology (and Roman and Norse mythologies) or even understand names like Dante or Pluto and Persephone, but as someone who took a “Myth and Magic" class in high school (yes, it was as cool as it sounds and I won’t hear otherwise), I found this fictitious world of Deadland to be ingenious. Using inspiration from assorted mythological creatures as the basis for a whole new universe really intrigued me and I wanted to explore everything there is to know about Deadland.

Brandon Ivie’s direction gets the highest accolade possible - through spare use of props and the actors doubling as prop/scenery technicians, he inspires the audience to suspend their disbelief, transforming a theater in a church on the upper west side into a full-throttle experience. The curtains used in the opening number to mimic the sky and a pool? They were a sky and pool, as far as I’m concerned. Ivie’s vision is so bold and graphic and seamless - on a budget of mere dollars it looks like, all the more a fuck-yeah - that he deserves every award one could throw at him.

Once Oliver’s music takes flight, it’s game on - you don’t want the music to stop. Ever. The orchestrations are like musical gifts for your ears, blending pop, rock, dance, techno, steampunk and like four other genres without a hitch. I couldn’t tap my foot, bob my head or shimmy in my seat enough...all the feels, man. When "The Living Dead" started up - basically, one of the best songs Oliver has ever written and Ivie interpreted it as a full-on dance/rave number - I had to stop myself from joining in on the funsplosion happening on stage.

And the cast? SHOWING the FUCK UP and SHUTTING it the FUCK DOWN. This ensemble is smart and knows the score...they probably won’t ever get rich material like this to go full-on character acting with. Point blank, these are roles performers will murder in cold blood for and I bet that, as of now, they are relishing their month-long experience for all its worth. With quick costume changes and little rest, there is great energy and not a weak-spot in the bunch.

The leads, Matt Doyle and Allison Scagliotti, are basically flawless. The former’s Jasper is nice on the eyes and ears and channels all those teenage hormones and rage-gasms authentically. When he starts speaking in other languages and transforms into a slacker bro named Darryl (just trust me on this without the full context), his smug grin says it all - he is inhabiting the role like the star he is. And when he sings, sit up and pay attention because everything is strongly belted and sounds gorgeous.

I always knew Scagliotti was an underrated talent from all her years on television, but when she was introduced as Gretchen, a tour guide in Deadland that gets intertwined with Jasper’s adventure, she surprised me. Giving back-to-back killer renditions of "The Forgetting" and the aforementioned "Living Dead," she sold me with her quick-wit and charisma. Her voice is stunning and she’s plucky! Her character is constantly put through the paces and Scagliotti kept delivering.

All in all, what is left to say? Get thyself to the theatre while you still can and enjoy it and thank the Theatre Gods we final got the production we were holding out for. The production itself knows we’ve been anticipating its existence and decided to be awesome. For that, I’m grateful.

Ticket Provided By the Production

Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy

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