Thursday, March 27, 2014

Jasper in Deadland is a Blend of Mythologies

First thing's first: Allison Scagliotti, best known as Mindy, Josh's girlfriend from Drake & Josh, is co-starring in Jasper in Deadland. I say this because I had no idea before the show (and it took me the first act to figure out why she looked so familiar). Now I know she probably wants to make a name for herself in theater apart from that and she definitely proves she has the chops with her work in this show, but I think there are a lot of Drake and Josh fans out there, and the marketing team should be playing her up more. Anyway, back to Jasper in Deadland, the Orpheus and Eurydice-inspired musical, which opened last night at the West End Theatre in the Church of St. Paul & St. Andrew.

Photo credit: Matthew Murphy
In this modern version of the Greek legend, high school student and swimmer Jasper (Matt Doyle) loves his best friend Agnes, but not in the way she wants him to. He prefers to just stay friends because he doesn't want to end up like his separated parents. Agnes, angry at him and wanting to prove herself, dives off a cliff. He jumps in after her to save her, but it's too late--she's already dead. So he goes to the underworld to bring her back. The show isn't just based on Greek mythology, but also picks and chooses from Roman, Egyptian, and Norse mythology. There is something fun about combining different stories and giving them a modern twist, but sometimes the choices don't make much sense. (Why was Persephone with Pluto and not Hades?) The book by Hunter Foster and Ryan Scott Oliver could cut some characters and modern references (it's cool to set it in the modern day, but there are too many unnecessary mentions of cell phones and the Internet). But the bigger problem is that although the stakes are high, none of the obstacles, like the three-headed dog Cerberus, Jasper faces end up seeming that scary as he goes from one to the next with relative ease.

Though the book is overstuffed, Brandon Ivie's staging and Patrick Rizzotti's set work simply and beautifully together. The use of blue fabric for water is especially effective (see photo). But the main reason to see the show is Oliver's memorable score. I still have "Stroke by Stroke" in my head, which Doyle delivers effortlessly. Doyle and Scagliotti are appealing performers and it's hard to take your eyes off them, so it's a credit to the rest of the cast that they also leave an impression, especially Ben Crawford (as Mr. Lethe) and his powerful baritone.

I've been going to concerts of Oliver's music for years, and Jasper in Deadland leaves me hopeful for what's to come from him in terms of book musicals.

No comments: