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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, May 22, 2015 - Volume 43 Issue 21
Jasper in Deadland is alive!
Arts & Entertainment
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Jasper in Deadland is alive!

by Eric Andrews-Katz - SGN A&E Writer

JASPER IN DEADLAND
5TH AVENUE THEATRE
Through May 24


By the end of the 2015-2016 Theater Season, the 5th Avenue Theatre will have produced 19 original musicals. This includes the nine musicals that have gone on to Broadway, as well as the two that have won Best Musical. Included in the list is the current 5th Avenue production called Jasper in Deadland, and there is a good chance it may go on to change the latter of the 5th Avenue's records.

The original musical (written by Hunter Foster and Ryan Scott Oliver) is a modern update of Orpheus and Eurydice but with several additions, adaptations, and twists. Jasper is a young man in his late teens who has woken up to find his girlfriend Agnes has died. Convinced it has been an error, Jasper decides to follow her to Deadland and bring her back. After finding his way past the three-headed guardian Cerberus, avoiding the Norse gods Loki and Hel, and even the Egyptian Ammut, Jasper and Agnes must outwit the embittered Mr. Lethe, a smarmy peddler selling water from his river that causes the memory to fade.

There isn't a bad member of this cast and they work together to promote, and exult the leading characters. All of them have multiple roles (except Jasper) and they pull it off with (relative) ease. The cast is&well, well cast and each of them does a great job in their own little sections. One standout is definitely Taryn Darr who deliciously plays Secretary Hathaway (among others), the assistant to Mr. Lethe. Keeping your eye on Ms. Darr's face while she is performing is perhaps one of the most delightful things of this musical! She instinctively knows how to infectiously giggle, wrinkle her face up, laugh, and embellish to where her character is easily considered (for me) a scene-stealer. And she can act! Diana Huey (playing Messenger and other roles) is another of the ensemble that stands out. We wait until the final scenes for her solo but as Eurydice (Agnes' precedent) she sings the song 'Lifesong,' and her voice shines. Jared Michael Brown plays Little Lu (among others), the redneck, hick who is Lucifer. He brought his comic clothes with him and 'Little Lu' is a wonderful addition of comic material in this show. Broadway and 5th Avenue veteran Louis Hobson appears as the wicked Mr. Lethe (rhymes with 'death') and delivers an above average performance. Mr. Hobson's usual laid-back style works for the greasy, yet ambitious, lesser god, and he does very well in the role. His singing is on par and the performance works as a villain of Deadland, without being too scary for younger members of the audience.

The two main characters both do excellent work in their performances! Sydney Shepherd is Agnes (and Gretchen the tour guide, among others) the girl that brings Jasper to Deadland. Her voice rocks! A woman who is obviously seasoned and talented delivers a very enjoyable performance, the role of Agnes. She handles the songs well letting her voice do the work and sends the lyrics throughout the theatre. Ms. Shepherd allows Agnes to feel a range of in-your-face-attitude to endearment to Jasper recognizing their shared love. Matt Doyle is perfect as Jasper, the young, naïve boy following his 'friend' into Deadland without realizing the extent of his love for her. His boyish countenance helps promote the innocence of the character, but when he opens his mouth a well-seasoned performer emerges. His instrument is strong, clear and he utilizes all of his natural abilities to help promote the plotline through song.

The storyline of the musical (written by Hunter Foster and Ryan Scott Oliver) delivers an excellent libretto utilizing the Greek myths. They include a running gag nod to the Norse using Loki and Hel (in cute, but throwaway roles) as opera divas. There's the nod to the lesser known Egyptian deity as well, bringing Ammut, a heart-eating goddess with the head of a crocodile, body of a lion and hippopotamus hips. The composer/lyricist is Ryan Scott Oliver and his music is not only hummable, but the lyrics are intelligent and do what a song in a musical should do; it promotes the storyline without bogging it down. There are ballads, rock numbers, group songs and solos that are all written well and seem appropriate for the characters, further continuing the plotline. The only problem is most of the group numbers are difficult to understand - that's NOT a fault of the songs; it's the bad acoustics that are installed at the 5th Avenue Theatre. (If you've noticed better sound lately, rumor has it some traveling shows have imported their own systems). Unfortunately, the system as it is makes the songs that much more difficult to understand.

Jasper in Deadland is an enjoyable, well-performed musical. While a few tweaks here and there should be made (there are one or two slow parts, and a few cloudy points in the storyline), the show is in very good form. Family friendly (with a few four-letter words in question) the story brings in several literary references as well as the mythological ones. There's enough action to keep the audience captive, and it's acted beyond the necessities to keep us interested. The music and lyrics will leave you tapping your feet and hoping that, eventually, there will be a cast recording.

The 5th Avenue Theatre is located at 1308 5th Ave in downtown Seattle. For more information, visit www.5thavenue.org or call 625-1900.

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