Former Fellow Ryan Scott Oliver is taking audiences to hell and back. His musical Jasper in Deadland runs through April 13 at the West End Theatre. Prospect Theater Company’s premiere stars Matt Doyle as Jasper, who is searching for his best friend Agnes (Allison Scagliotti) in the underworld. Ryan talks to The Dramatists Guild Fund about working with bookwriter Hunter Foster, seeing his show come to life, and his incredible cast.
You’ve done a lot of concerts and workshops. Is this your first major NYC production?
Ryan Scott Oliver: Yes, it’s my first major NYC production of all my songs. I was a part of TheatreWorksUSA’s We The People and my show 35mm enjoyed a short run n Brooklyn, but this is certainly an “arrival” of sorts. But to where?
What inspired the idea for this show?
RSO: I run a company called the Pasadena Musical Theatre Program in California, and we had been doing revues for about 17 years. It was time to do something original. I knew I wanted it to be a rock show inspired by a classic story, wanted a lead male protagonist, I was obsessed with Greek mythology and death. So Orpheus and Eurydice seemed like a good starting point.
When and how did you and Hunter Foster start writing together?
RSO: We share an agent! I didn’t think someone of Hunter’s ilk would be interested in working with a newbie like me, but he was. He has been an incredible joy to work with. So kind, understanding, and in many ways a great teacher.
What do you think you bring out in each other as writers?
RSO: We joke that I do the overly dense, heady stuff, and he keeps it real, both delivering the heart of the show but also keeping it current and very funny. We’re like the Beatles in the sense that you can tell who contributed which moment. I wrote the first draft of the show in 2011 and I’ve changed a lot in the last several years, so I think there were two pairs of fresh eyes on the piece.
How would you describe the music in the show?
RSO: Typical of me–intricate and often complex, with nods to opera, horror movies, Danny Elfman, and classic musical theatre. All within a pop-rock box.
How did the show come to Prospect Theater Company?
RSO: Artistic Director Cara Reichel and I met up and talked shows. She was intrigued by the pitch, and here we are!
What was the casting process like and what do you think Matt Doyle and Allison Scagliotti bring to their roles?
RSO: Matt Doyle is an old friend. Like many of the actors I work with, we have been working together for years. I actually love every night seeing Matt, F. Michael Haynie (who has done almost every incarnation of the show since 2011), Ben Crawford (who starred in my show 35mm), and John-Michael Lyles (a former student and a kid who’s sung in almost every show I’ve written). And then there’s Leo Ash Evens with whom I worked on a recent concert of my show Darling. Leo came in and the whole team was like, “We gotta use this guy. Find a way!” It feels like family. Allison was a last minute catch. We never thought she’d say yes, but she was excited from the first. And that really really set the bar. She’s an incomparable actress and is singing the pants off all of these songs. I couldn’t be more proud of her. Bonnie, Danyel and Andi, our female ensemble, are all new to me. Each one is so frighteningly singular and each gets a moment (or 10) to show the world their stuff. They are all going to be famous. The cast of Jasper in Deadland is truly remarkable and each cast member deserves a star turn in their own show.
What aspect or parts of the show are you most excited about seeing coming to life in this production?
RSO: It’s an imaginative script (read, impossible to execute), and that’s intentional. We want a director to feel the challenge. Director Brandon Ivie, choreographer Lorin Latarro, and the wonderful design team have worked with a very small budget to make a very big show happen, and I think, effectively. It’s impossible to ask an actor to “physically explode, drenching the crowd in blood” (AEA rules, I guess), a “factory to blow up” (apparently IATSE regs), or for a young man to “cross an invisible chasm dwindling into nothingness” (laws of physics, they said) but everyone has helped the audience to use their imagination. And if they can do that, they’ll really enjoy the show, I think.
Interview by Shoshana Greenberg