Jasper in Deadland, a brand new Musical, still has a couple of days left at The 5th Avenue Theatre. The Composer Ryan Scott Oliver took a few minutes to speak with us. It is a new and fresh look at the Orpheus and Eurydice myth. There is lots of Love, Death, Music and Laughter. Don’t miss out. It is only playing until May 24th. Get your tickets here.
An electrifying new pop/rock musical in the spirit of RENT and Spring Awakening, Jasper in Deadland takes audiences on a mythological thrill-ride through the underworld. As teenage Jasper faces gods and monsters in search of his best friend (and true love) Agnes, he learns to let go of the demons of daily life and embrace the music within. With a pulsating contemporary score and vibrant roots in ancient Greek, Egyptian, Roman, and Norse legends and fables, this spine-tingling, hair-raising, heart-stirring show explores what it means to be truly alive.
Earle Dutton: How did you feel when people referred to you as the future of Broadway?
Ryan Scott Oliver: Oh shit (Laughter) how do I feel…I mean you know I’m doing this because musical theater is my life and my passion and you know I feel like I have something to offer and to have the 5th Avenue see that is rewarding. I wouldn’t even call it reward, it’s not about rewarding, you know they want it, they saw this show and they wanted to bring it to their audiences and you know when people say something sweet like that, you know its everything I’m hoping to be and so to feel like some people get that is really gratifying.
ED: What does it mean to you to be cutting edge in your industry?
RSO: I think in any artistic industry, you have both study the path, learn the rules… but then if you want to be cutting edged, if you want to be successful; you have to break the rules. You have to show people something they’ve never seen before and you have to spin those traditions in a new ways. I think with any art where you’re trying to tell a story like we’re doing here with musical theater. You really have to hold a mirror to your audience and say this is what life is like and if the show is successful the audience can see that and go ‘Yes life is just like that.’ That’s certainly what we’re trying to do with Jasper, it’s about life and it’s about becoming conditioned as I told the eyes of a 17 year old boy dealing with relatively common familial woes. How he finds, especially and you know this generation, finds it difficult to connect with another human being especially his friend Agnes, one that loves him so much. We hope that audiences recognize you know whether if they’re young they recognize themselves, if they’re a little bit older, they recognize someone they know within themselves in these characters in this story.
ED: When did you decide to become a composer?
RSO: I would say I was interested in it professionally… you know at the end of high school but I think it took me a while to realize the business side of it. I think show business has a lot more to do with business than it does show. I think why I realized that the kinds of stories that were close to my heart and the kind of stories that I wanted to share could be commercial and could be of interest to musical theater audiences is when I sort of realized I had something to offer. Which isn’t to say that you know I’m writing the most commercial shows; I’m definitely not, but I do think what I have to say is something that a group of people do want to hear.
ED: Nice how did Jasper come across your desk, how did that unfold?
RSO: It was my idea. I run theater company called The Pasadena Musical Theater Program, that’s in California where I’m from. I was in it from I was a child and it’s sort of how I got started in performing musical theater and you know in grade school. When I took it over and I started writing musicals in my own right, I realized I had an opportunity to share that passion with my students. So I wanted something based on familiar source material. I’ve always loved Greek mythology. I always wanted a very straight forward story. The Orpheus and Eurydice myth is very straight forward, boy loses girl and boy goes through the underworld to get the girl back and that to me was very exciting. Especially because, people familiar with my work probably noticed that I tend to write a lot of dark subject matter, which isn’t to say horror by any means, but it is to say darkness really attracts me because I think every human being has as much or more darkness in them then even light. But, it’s the light that we all gravitate towards and it’s the light at the end of the tunnel through a very dark story that I think is really for me exciting, interesting. Jasper is very much that story. I wrote it in 2011by myself. Eventually, you know, a couple years ago I developed it. During that time, we did a little workshop in California. The notes I was getting eventually I could put a fix to the problem, problems of the show I should say, so I coached Hunter Foster who of course is a successful Broadway actor and also successful librettist. He read the play and liked it very much and teamed up with me. He brought a tremendous amount of gravity and heart to a show that you know was already high on spectacle and already high on energy. He definitely brought a weight and an importance to the material that wasn’t there before and so I think what’s left is a very, very heartfelt but also very thrilling, exciting new musical.
ED: Do you have any exercises to keep up your creativity and stay fresh?
RSO: Well, I write every single day because you’ve got to. I guess you might say that everything is an exercise, and nothing is an exercise for me these days. I try to write a new show every single year because a year is a really good time frame to delve into something research it and write a draft of it or two then take some time off. In musical theater it takes 5 or 6 years to do truly develop something which is just a very long shelf life for a show. So if you just write one show, you know it will take 5 or more years before you really see it in a substantive way. I just couldn’t wait for that so for the last 8 years I’ve written a show every single year and even as we speak as I’m here at Jasper I’m working on another show like literally I’m in rehearsals, you know obviously participating, but I’m also working on something else. I have another show opening off Broadway this fall. So my mind is basically divided into 3 shows right now and so I don’t really have to think of exercises because I just have to be writing every single day. I guess you might say that I’m a fan of this thing called Luminosity.com. It is this great website they call it ‘ a gym for your brain’ and so every other day I try to do 15 or 20 minutes of just some mind games that gets my brain awake and that sort of frees up some space in there which is good.
ED: What’s your new show that’s going to open after Jasper In Deadland?
RSO: Well the one, other than, Jasper that’s looking to have a production in New York, sort of TBA is a show called ‘Darling’ which is a very dark deconstruction of Peter Pan. Where Peter Pan is a Rent Boy named Peter and he steals a young girl to sort of an underground world of sex, drugs and jazz. The other show I’m working on, the third show, is a show called ‘Rope’ and it’s a totally original show about two boys that go on a desperate journey together. They are literally tied together by a rope and it’s an American drama, heroine, beautiful, somebody dies at the end, that kind of thing.
ED: For maybe some newbies out there that either haven’t been to The 5th Avenue Theatre or don’t really attend musicals, what would you tell them about Jasper to get them to try it out?
RSO: Totally, well I ask them do you like Rock N Roll and then I’d say, do you like love stories and do you like watching people go through Hell (Laughter). If they answer yes to those three things, then Jasper is the show for you.
ED: What were your musical influences growing up?
RSO: I have had a huge range of musical influences. I grew up with opera and within a couple of other companies. I loved the classic musicals. I love the Rodgers & Hammerstein’s shows. I love the Sondheim shows. Then in my mid-twenties, I got married. My husband is a Broadway photographer, Matthew Murphy. He loves music and he’s really good about finding the latest and the greatest. He is constantly filling up Spotify playlist with great material. So, I come from Opera. I’m pretty well versed in the Musical Theater canon. I also love of Contemporary Rock, Folk and Pop music. I think if you know that, when you come to see Jasper, you’ll hear Operatic influences in this Rock score. You’ll hear Panic At The Disco or My Chemical Romance or you like any of these All American Rejects, you like any of these great, you know contemporary Rock bands, those influences too. Of course, it’s a Musical, you’ve got some Boom-Chuck in there. People shouldn’t think this is just another Rock show you know like Rent. Rent is a masterpiece but it is a Rock show. I think Jasper is a show that uses Rock to tell a young person’s story. I really do think that anybody can find their musical taste somewhere in this show.
ED: Is there a classic or some Musical that you just love and you love to get your hands on and completely rework it?
RSO: (Laughing) Yes, I probably will get in a lot of trouble for this but, yes and would answer that the question anyway. It is Carey, Steven King’s Carey. I have had a number of people come to me and say, ’What would that show been like if you had written it?’ And I wondered the same thing myself. (Laughter)