A theater in a church? Yup!
Currently playing the West End Theater in the Church of St. Paul & St. Andrew in NYC, new musical Jasper In Deadland could not ask for a more appropriate space. The show deals with issues of death and the afterlife.
Unfortunately, the musical doesn't quite live up to the venue's grandeur.
However, like life, much beauty can still be found in imperfection and Jasper In Deadland is definitely worth seeing - for three reasons.
1) The ever-likeable Matt Doyle gets to shine and show off his many talents in the title role
2) The direction of Brandon Ivie is INSPIRED! It is thrilling to see all his inventiveness and everything he and his team were able to do with that space and budget
3) Bonnie Milligan, whose voice is as big as her comedic ability. We saw her in a crappy Fifty Shades musical last year, so it was WONDERFUL to see her in a much better show. We can see the future and we expect this girl to be a big Broadway star - soon!
The show itself is enjoyable, although very flawed.
The majority of the musical is set in "Deadland", which is - you guessed it - a land dead people go to.
This fantastical element detaches the audience from the characters, who have to go through some outlandish and surreal scenarios in the show.
Setting Jasper in high school and creating a show withing a show construct, where they are performing "Deadland", may have been more effective. It would have been easier to come back to reality and ground the show in relatability.
There are some VERY funny moments, and we applaud Hunter Foster, for the book. But, overall, the story needs a lot of work. As does the music.
There are a few great songs, most of which are backloaded in the second act, but the majority of the tunes could be scrapped and replaced with… better ones. Ryan Scott Oliver wrote the music and lyrics all by himself, which is a bit unusual in theater. It's often very helpful to have a collaborator to bounce ideas off and make your work better. There are so many great teams in musical theater, and that's definitely something we'd encourage Oliver to explore.
Theater takes A LONG time to develop shows. Jasper has been worked on for years. And, sadly, this may and probably should be the end.
But there are some great moments in this production and a lot of promise from all parties involved!