Theater review: The 5th Avenue Theatre’s “Jasper in Deadland” has a few dead spots, writes Michael Upchurch.
If the “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” were to get together with a Disney anthem or two, their love-child might look a bit like “Jasper in Deadland.”
This new musical by Ryan Scott Oliver (music and lyrics) and Hunter Foster (who collaborated with Oliver on the book) mixes the glam with the bland in a sometimes-lively, sometimes-humdrum manner. It certainly gets some laughs as it puts a goofy contemporary spin on the tale of Orpheus and Eurydice. But its central drama doesn’t hit home.
Originally staged in an 84-seat theater in New York last year, the show has been expanded for Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre. Brandon Ivie (“A Christmas Story”) directs. Broadway actor Matt Doyle (“The Book of Mormon,” “Spring Awakening”) has come from New York to reprise the lead role. And local star Louis Hobson — a 5th Avenue regular — is on hand to serve up some sleazy underworld charm.
‘Jasper in Deadland’
By Ryan Scott Oliver and Hunter Foster. Through May 24, 5th Avenue Theatre, 1308 Fifth Ave., Seattle (206-625-1900 or 5thavenue.org).
Teenage Jasper (Doyle) is a troubled kid (“broken home, bad grades, no hope, no future”) who can’t admit to himself how much he loves his best friend Agnes. Instead, in plaintive dialogue, he keeps giving reasons she shouldn’t hang out with him (“I don’t deserve you — my life’s too messed up”).
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When she dies and goes to Deadland, however, Jasper grows determined to return her to the land of living. And the longer Jasper lingers there, the more it seems he might stay … especially if he keeps drinking the memory-erasing waters of the River Lethe.
One thing about Deadland — it has more interesting characters than the living world, including Hobson’s plaid-suited Mr. Lethe, who looks like he just rolled in from Las Vegas; Egyptian goddess Ammut (Brandi Chavonne Massey), who’d like to rip Jasper’s heart out of his chest and eat it; and a tour guide named Gretchen (Sydney Shepherd) who starts falling for Jasper for reasons she can’t quite explain to herself.
Doyle and Shepherd both have fine voices, well complemented by a snappy seven-piece pit-band. But it’s Hobson and Massey, with their big numbers, who steal the show.
The technical bells and whistles provide high points too. There’s a talking river that mixes low-tech visuals with eerie sound design (by Justin Stasiw); a three-headed hellhound with glowing eyes (courtesy of puppet-maker Kyle Loven); and Ammut’s crazy crocodile/leopard/hippopotamus-inspired costume (by Pete Rush, worn with towering swagger by Massey).
Other nice touches: live news updates on how having a human on the loose in Deadland is wreaking havoc, and a commercial spot for Lethe water, with all its dire side effects listed.
As for the songs, Shepherd’s “The Forgetting” has a quiet, mournful waltz-time appeal (“You’ll forget you forgot”), while Hobson’s “Awful People” lets him have a dandily unctuous cabaret moment.
By its end, though, “Jasper in Deadland” feels like it’s in shouting oversell-mode. This show may still need some tweaking.