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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

Jasper in Deadland
Earnest But Earthbound

The 5th Avenue Theatre


Matt Doyle
Jasper in Deadland scored a prime spring season slot at the 5th Avenue Theatre when the Broadway powers that be behind Something Rotten! decided to skip the planned spring Seattle tryout and instead do elongated New York previews. Wise move for the 10-Tony nominated and largely lauded spoof, but what to fill the hole in the 5th's schedule? The choice (now ending a long-previewed run which critics were invited to a week before closing) was the mildly well-received Jasper in Deadland which had just come off a spring 2013 Off-Broadway run. The 5th has a major interest in supporting new musicals, but their faith in this one seems insupportable.

Despite Seattle and Off=Broadway director Brandon Ivie's flair for this sort of left of center material, splashy Lorrin Latarro choreography, visually appealing sets by Jason Sherwood, lighting by Robert J. Aguilar, the exemplary puppet design and creations by Kyle Loven, and a cast willing and able to go the distance to shed their bright shiny lights on this material to display it to the best advantage, the show is, sorry, DOA.

Most specifically, though certainly not exclusively based on the Orpheus and Eurydice legend, Hunter Foster and Ryan Scott Oliver's book is both confusing and misguided. It sets the stakes so low that we never care if Jasper/Orpheus and Agnes/Eurydice find each other and return to the land of the living, or head for the Merry Old Land of Oz. Mr. Oliver's music and lyrics are rarely ghastly, but mostly mundane, and a disappointment for those like myself who have found some of his other work more promising. I suppose the best numbers are the most anachronistic in the score: the evil big-bad of the show Mr. Lethe's spotlight number, which is reminiscent of Damn Yankees' "Those Were the Good Old Days" but with less sparkle, and the closing number "One More Day of Snow" which you will swear that was probably written for either another show, or a song that "The Brady Bunch" cast recorded on the b-side of "Sunshine Day."

Matt Doyle encores his title role from the Off-Broadway cast and acts and sings with easy confidence, even though he is clearly 10 years overage for the mega-depressed 18-year-old Jasper. As Jasper's Deadland Guide (and also someone else pivotal to the tale), Sydney Shepherd is beguiling, endearing, and has a knock-out voice. The bulk of the rest of 14-member cast play both major featured and ensemble roles. Some, like Diana Huey, reap the rewards of each, owning a featured song that shows off their astounding vocal talents, while others, like Jared Michael Brown and Evan Woltz, milk the character comedy from the nearly dry udder of the script. Louis Hobson as Lethe oozes menace, greed and avarice with gusto and glee and puts across his aforementioned big number with panache. Taryn Darr, often a star in other Seattle shows, still shines like one as Lethe's bottle blonde Secretary Hathaway, raising belly laughs from the audience by her sheer force of nature. And R.J. Tancioco musical directs the bejesus out of the score.

Maybe it was more of a lark in an 85-seat house, but I was baffled and relieved as I left the 5th. But one thing is for certain; Jasper in Deadland will probably be as much a topic of conversation as any number of far more worthy shows. Deem it soon to gone, unlikely to be forgotten.

Jasper in Deadland runs through May 24, 2015, at The 5th Avenue Theatre, 1308 Fifth Ave., Seattle. For tickets or more information call 206-625-1900 or visit www.5thavenue.org.


Photo: Matthew Murphy



- David Edward Hughes



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