Recently, I had the opportunity to listen to “Jasper In Deadland,” by award-winning composer/lyricist Ryan Scott Oliver, whose name was known to me but whose work was not. “Jasper In Deadland” isn’t the type of show that I would generally be drawn to, I’ll admit.
I’ll also admit that to my surprise I was captivated from the first track, “Goodbye Jasper!” and its first “YA TA TA DA DA TA TA DA.”
The story by Mr. Oliver, co-written with Hunter Foster, has as its source the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. Orpheus, traditionally the son of a Muse, was endowed with the gift of sublime musical skills, playing the lyre and singing. After returning from sailing with the Argonauts, Orpheus meets and falls in love with Eurydice who later dies from a snakebite. Overcome with grief Orpheus ventures into the land of the dead to bring her back to life. Hades, king of the underworld, ultimately agrees to allow Orpheus to return to the land of the living with Eurydice though with one condition. Orpheus is to ascend with Eurydice accompanying him from behind, but Orpheus is not to look back at her until after they have left the land of the dead. The story of Orpheus and Eurydice is one that has fascinated many creative writers over the centuries, being retold numerous times in operas, in drama and in films. Now, it’s been given a contemporary setting and the sound of theatrical rock.
Jasper, earnestly sung and performed by Matt Doyle (Broadway’s “Book of Mormon,” and “Spring Awakening”), responds to a voice message from his friend Agnes. She asks that he meet her at the cliff where they often met. Once there he quickly realizes that she has fallen into the River Lethe thirty feet below. He jumps in determined to bring her back. As in the myth, once in the land of the dead Jasper meets an assortment of characters all determined to prevent him from leaving, starting with the three-headed dog Cerberus who wants to know, “What Is Life?” In this well-sung recording the Deadland characters are alternately comic and scary. In addition to Matt Doyle, the singers are not only good, but extremely versatile as they sing various characters throughout.
What impressed me the most in this witty, zany, well-written score is the variety of Mr. Oliver’s music. “The Forgetting” is written in waltz-time and lyrically reminiscent of Sondheim in a good way. During his time in Deadland Jasper meets the real Eurydice who sings “Lifesong,” a song with the sound of soul (no pun intended) and is nicely sung by Andi Alhadeff. Mr. Oliver’s score never loses its driving rock-and-roll sound nor its clear drive to tell a story in a musically interesting way. It also delivers songs that are remembered.
The recording is well produced with a clarity of voices and a separation of voices and instruments. There is a 16-page booklet of complete lyrics plus color photographs from Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre production in 2015. It was previously produced in 2014, in New York City by the Prospect Theatre Company.
On his website Mr. Oliver is described as “A composer-lyricist fashioning epic dramas, gothic thrillers, and high-octane rock and roll into exhilarating new musicals.” “Jasper In Deadland” hits all three points plus it’s fun!
Visit Ryan Scott Oliver for more information.
Visit Sh-k-boom & Ghostlight Records to purchase this recording.