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Jasper In Deadland – Take A Dive To The Dead Side

by Karen Tortora-Lee on March 27, 2014

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deadlandNo matter your age or where you are in life, chances are you can identify with sixteen year old Jasper.  Seems his world is a cacophony of tweets and gossip and shout outs and “don’t forget to”s that ring hollow from people who barely have their own lives together.   There’s so much over stimulation in Jasper’s life that it’s impossible for him to hear his own thoughts, let alone sort out his own path.  So is it any wonder he’s anxious to escape all the noise and just get to where he feels the safest?  Dodge the warring parents, the nosy classmates, the bombastic crowds and just float underwater where it’s all just blissful?

If only it were that easy.  Cue best-friend-not-girlfriend Agnes who professes her love for Jasper and then does what any teen does when she’s rejected:  she makes a simultaneous cry for attention and leap of faith and dramatic gesture. She emulates his aquatic skills and dives off a cliff.  Did she survive? Maybe.  That’s for Jasper to find out.

And so begins Hunter Foster and Ryan Scott Oliver‘s musical Jasper In Deadland, currently playing at the West End Theater and running until April 13th.

Matt Doyle as Jasper | JASPER IN DEADLAND  [ photo by Matthew Murphy]

Matt Doyle as Jasper | JASPER IN DEADLAND [ photo by Matthew Murphy]

Jasper takes the dive himself and (as it’s one he’s done countless times before) he emerges – not dead – but on the deck of the Ferry (yes that Ferry) as it rocks across the currents of the Lethe river. Determined to track down Agnes whom he hopes has survived, he makes his way past Cerberus – the three headed hound guarding the entrance of the underworld (three huge heads designed and constructed by Puppet designer Elizabeth Ostler).  After duly noting the warning that “DEADLAND IS A PLACE WHERE YOU FORGET LIFE // IF YOU REMAIN TOO LONG …  AND JOIN THE DEAD FOREVER ” he finds himself in City Circle run by the slick and nefarious Mr. Lethe (Ben Crawford).

If Jasper was seeking out peace, it’s unfortunately illusive.  Deadland, it seems, is just as bustling – if not more-so – than the world he left uptop. It comes replete with its own infrastructure of denizens as well as neophytes. For those who are feeling a little lost, one need only follow helpful tour guide Gretchen. Eager to help Jasper navigate the whirls and pops and find  his Agnes, Gretchen gives him a run-down of what he’s got in store. (AS EACH MEMORY ERASES, THE PHOTOS OF FAMILIAR FACES SMUDGE AND BLOT— BUT YOU WON’T CARE A LOT; YOU’LL FORGET YOU FORGOT.)

Not only is Jasper up against unbelievable odds (“There’s like a billion-trillion souls in Deadland”) but he also must race against time … for the longer he stays below the more his memory of all that was above begins to erode.   Plus, he’s having trouble navigating the town without being followed.  In the short time he’s been in Deadland he’s been making headline news as “A Living Soul Among Us!” and everyone wants to touch the boy who can bring back a flash of their undead life with just a bump, a grasp or a graze.  As he gamely dodges thrill seekers and moves from one hot spot to another, sub plots begin to bubble up and thicken the plot. Lurking in between everything is the evil Mr. Lethe who keeps Deadland in his clutches through advertising, mass production and despicable dosing. Of course he does.

Foster and Oliver leave no moment in the play unused – in between the large bricks of the grand quest, the battle between good and evil and the star-crossed lovers the team has taken care to use a cement of humor, and mythological allusions galore.  If at times it seems a bit crowded, plot wise, it’s at least an enjoyable crush.

In a cast this small there is no room for weak links – and there are none.  Lead by the boyishly charming Matt Doyle with a winning and engaging Allison Scagliotti by his side, each actor on stage is in turn funny, magnetic and powerfully spirited.  The cast of nine is dynamic and bursting with talent – all but Doyle and Scagliotti  play numerous roles and will often switch characters with head-spinning alacrity.   This consummate cast magically doubles and triples their output –  there is often so much energy, so much vocal power and so much artistry that during many of the musical numbers they will fool you into thinking they number in the dozens.

Matt Doyle and Allison Scagliotti in "Living Dead" [photo by Matthew Murphy]

Matt Doyle and Allison Scagliotti in “Living Dead” [photo by Matthew Murphy]

And while the cast of Jasper In Deadland moves seamlessly as a team, almost each member gets their star turn in which they can connect with the audience. Danyel Fulton as Ammut virtually stopped the show with her electric number “HUNGRY FOR YOUR HEART” hitting notes and blasting through walls in a way that called to mind Patti LaBelle. Yet able to run pace with all the fireworks of that number were quieter moments like the beautiful duet (A LOVE UNTOUCHED) between Allison Scagliotti and Bonnie Milligan whose voices blended into a luscious froth of harmony and heartbreak.  Milligan, for her part, turned in several scene-stealing performances including a Beatrix Portinari which had the audience in the palm of her hand the minute she tossed her hair and shot them a wicked glance.

Director Brandon Ivie’s staging is often a bit frenetic yet seems to be intentionally so – and serves the story line.  How else to explain the safety of living inside another person’s life than to show the chaos that exists without it?

Herrick Goldman’s lighting design and Ed Chapman’s sound design embrace the magic and innovation of independent theatre – many of the more powerful moments sit squarely on the scaffolding of the lighting and sound design which beautifully intensifies the emotional impact of many of the more ethereal scenes in Deadland.

Jasper In Deadland, with its high-octane cast, stunning visuals and whimsical staging knocks it out of the park.  This may be an age-old story, but it’s filled with up-to-the-moment flourishes that will delight you from start to finish.  I say dive on in.



Book by Hunter Foster and Ryan Scott Oliver
Music and Lyrics by Ryan Scott Oliver

Directed by Brandon Ivie

March 16 – April 13, 2014

West End Theater
in the Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew
(263 West 86th St., NYC)
$50 regular seating, $65 premium

To purchase CLICK HERE or call 212-352-3101


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