Jasper in Deadland: A Review

By Christopher Heide

Jasper in Deadland is an ambitious, yet middling production that recently debuted at the 5th Avenue Theatre.  This contemporary spin on the tale of Orpheus and Eurydice has some entertaining moments, but the overall energy and drama of the production falls flat.

The new musical by Ryan Scott Oliver is an audio-visual cacophony of stimulation. Sometimes, the show is too stimulating and relies too heavily on these technical accents.  There are plenty of elaborate set designs and EDM inspired lighting, all clearly included to boost the energy of the show. While these elements are interesting, they unfortunately do not help boost the middling plot and poorly drafted book. The driving force of any well crafted show needs to be the plot, dialogue and song selection.  In Jasper in Deadland, these three components are among the weakest.

Director Brandon Ivey was given the weighty task of transforming Jasper in Deadland into a hit show, after Tony nominated Something Rotten was removed from the 5th and sent to Broadway. Originally staged in an 84-seat theater in New York last year, the show has been expanded for Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre. The finished product is a show that has a lot of potential, but is definitely not Broadway ready. Very few of the songs are memorable and a great deal of the choreography is clunky and outdated.

One bright spot in this production is Matt Doyle, who starts at the titular Jasper.  Doyle is a Broadway veteran, having appeared in Spring Awakening and The Book of Mormon. Jasper is an overall shallow character, seemingly driven by one purpose throughout the show- to rescue his best friend/true love Agnes from the underworld. Doyle’s soaring vocals and consistent energy help to elevate Jasper, and the show itself. 

I wanted to like Jasper in Deadland a lot more than I actually did. It is definitely not the next Rent.  It’s loud and vibrant, but lacks the depth and nuance needed for the next big musical.