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Theatre / Jasper in Deadland

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"Now Entering: Deadland"

Gretchen: I am telling you, you are in danger.
Jasper: And I am telling you that I have to find Agnes before more pictures come down, and I forget it all.

Jasper in Deadland is a pop-rock musical written by Hunter Foster and Ryan Scott Oliver, with music and lyrics by Ryan Scott Oliver. It was commissioned in 2011 and premiered Off-Broadway in 2014, with a CD release in 2016.

In the vein of Orpheus and Eurydice, Jasper, a teen with a troubled life, journeys to the underworld of Deadland to rescue his best friend, Agnes. Deadland features a mashup of creatures and characters from many mythologies, and while Jasper encounters many dangers on his quest to rescue Agnes, in particular the sinister Mr. Lethe, the greatest obstacle both he and Agnes face is themselves.

This musical contains examples of:

  • Accidental Suicide: Agnes winds up in Deadland after she tries to face her fear of diving by leaping into the lake that Jasper often leapt into, only to drown before she can return to the shore.
  • Actually Quite Catchy: When Gretchen takes Jasper to every club in Deadland in the hopes of finding Agnes. At first, Jasper focuses on asking around while Gretchen joins in on the festivities, but later, they can both be seen rocking out to the music at Osiris' concert.
  • Adaptational Alternate Ending: Zigzagged. Early on, Gretchen implies that Jasper and Agnes will wind up suffering the same fate as Orpheus and Eurydice, only to have the show pretend to go for a different Downer Ending multiple times. Ultimately it's played straight as they both return to life, unlike Orpheus and Eurydice.
    • Once Jasper and Agnes regain their lost memories, they realize that they aren't even sure that the Living World is worth returning to, and prepare to drink more Lethe-brand Water to erase their memories again. This gets subverted when Eurydice herself arrives and convinces Jasper not to give up on life.
    • After Jasper and Agnes reach Pluto, he initially refuses to give them the same offer that he gave Orpheus. Unwilling to accept Agnes' death, Jasper offers his own life in exchange for Agnes being allowed to return to the surface. Touched by this sacrifice, Persephone convinces Pluto to let them both leave.
    • Finally, after being told not to look back while swimming through the River Lethe, Jasper almost makes the same mistake as Orpheus, but is saved by Eurydice again. Then when he reaches the surface, for a moment it seems like Agnes didn't make it.
  • Adventures in Comaland: It often seems like Deadland is a physical place, with water that Jasper and Agnes can drink, objects they can touch, clothes they can wear, and monsters that can kill them. However, it is shown at the end that Jasper and Agnes never physically entered Deadland, as their bodies are still wearing their original clothes instead of the clothes they changed into while in Deadland.
  • Afterlife Angst: Inverted - the corpses in Deadland are fine with the fact that they're dead, and the song "Living Dead" is about how liberating death is. By comparison, life is portrayed as a horrible ordeal, and the song "The Killing" is about how life is full of awful people.
  • Ancient Grome: Most of the classical mythology characters use their Greek names, but Pluto, Jupiter, and Neptune have their Roman pantheon names.
  • Beautiful Void: Agnes notes how peaceful it is in Elysium before she suggests staying there forever, while Jasper notes how empty it is.
  • BSoD Song: "Beat and Broken Spirits" has one verse where Agnes starts to accept that she's going to be trapped in Lethe's Factory forever.
    Now it’s real
    Get in the bed you made for yourself
    Fate with a seal
    Here is the price and you’ve paid with yourself
  • Bumbling Henchmen Duo: For being Norse Gods, Hel and Loki are pretty bad at the capturing-Jasper thing, and their want for bloodshed plus being easily distracted makes them fairly easy to outmaneuver.
  • Card-Carrying Villain: Mr. Lethe takes utmost pride in being an awful person, and has seeded the living world with his drugs for years.
  • Contemplate Our Navels: Cerberus is distracted talking to himself as he ponders the meaning of life.
  • Converse with the Unconscious: "Saving Jasper" is sung by Agnes while Jasper is still unconscious from falling into the wasteland.
  • Crossover Cosmology: Deadland is host to many characters from various mythologies, including Ammut and Osiris from Egyptian mythology, Hel and Loki from Norse mythology, Dante, Virgil, and Beatrice from The Divine Comedy, and Cerberus, Rhadamanthus, Pluto, Charon, Eurydice, and Persephone from Greco-Roman mythology.
  • Damsel out of Distress: After Loki brings her to Mr. Lethe's factory as punishment, Agnes is able to escape on her own by sabotaging the assembly lines.
  • Dark Is Not Evil: Most of the corpses in Deadland dress in dark clothes but are friendly, sociable, and way less of a problem for Jasper than anything else he encounters in Deadland.
  • The Dead Can Dance: A lot of souls spend most of their time partying, dancing and just having fun. Gretchen explains that they mostly do it as a distraction to avoid going insane.
  • Death Amnesia: At the end of the show, upon returning to life, Agnes clearly remembers nothing about Deadland. Jasper still remembers everything on account of him still being alive when he entered Deadland.
  • Deus ex Machina: When it looks like only Jasper or Agnes will be able to return to the land of the living, Persephone agrees to stay with Pluto for one more day if he agrees to let them both back.
  • Devil, but No God: Implied; Lucifer is a minor antagonist, and he mentions that he used to be an angel. However, he is the only character from Abrahamic religions, as the other characters are all from Egyptian, Roman and Norse myths.
  • The Devil Is a Loser: Satan is portrayed as little more than a redneck factory overseer watching the punishments of Tartarus, and is quickly dispatched once the lines are stopped up.
  • Downer Beginning: The first minute of the show establishes that Jasper's life sucks for a number of reasons (most of which he gets the blame for) and the only real good thing in his life is his best friend, Agnes. And then Agnes drowns and he gets pulled into The Underworld when he tries to save her.
  • Extra! Extra! Read All About It!: A paperboy uses this phrase when informing other Deadland residents that Jasper has the ability to remind them of the lives they've forgotten.
  • Faux Horrific: Persephone's noble sacrifice to let Jasper and Agnes go back is...spending one day extra with Pluto, who's completely overjoyed and plans super fun activities.
  • Flashback Effects: Four notes on a glockenspiel play each time Jasper restores someone's memories.
  • Fluffy the Terrible: Lucifer is referred to by the nickname "Little Lu".
  • Foil:
    • The song "The Killing" explains that Jasper's parents are awful for opposite reasons - his mother is consumed by Greed, constantly wanting more and more, whereas his father is an Addled Addict who doesn't want to try and accomplish anything.
    • Jasper and Gretchen are total opposites. Jasper knows nothing about Deadland (as he didn't know it existed), whereas Gretchen has been there long enough to act as a Native Guide. Jasper is in danger of losing Agnes, his memory, and his life if he can't find Agnes and return to the Living World, whereas Gretchen has already lost her life and her memory, and shows no interest in trying to get them back. Jasper is cynical and pessimistic due to his awful life, whereas Gretchen is cynical and optimistic because she can't even remember her awful life. Jasper refuses to give up on saving Agnes, no matter how many risks he has to take, whereas Gretchen leaves (or almost leaves) Jasper no less than three times.
  • Foreshadowing: Gretchen explains in her first scene that "time has no meaning here", which helps explain how Agnes lost all of her memories, become acquainted with most of Deadland, and became a tour-guide in such a short amount of time.
  • Food Chains: Lethe-brand water slowly erases the memories of anyone who drinks it. This is particularly dangerous for Jasper because after drinking it, he has to get out of Deadland with his friend Agnes before he forgets who she is or who he is.
  • Gender Flip:
    • The River Lethe is named after Mr Lethe, even though Lethe was a goddess in Greek Mythology.
    • After some productions cast Jasper as a female role and/or changed Mister Lethe to Madam Lethe, Concord Theatricals released notes saying that "all roles may be played by any gender".
  • Ghost Amnesia: Souls who enter Deadland begin to forget their past lives, or to be more accurate, the water from the River Lethe makes them forget.
  • The Glomp: Agnes immediately does this to Jasper once her memories return and she realizes the lengths that he went to in order to save her from the Underworld.
  • Grand Romantic Gesture: Agnes is in love with Jasper, but Jasper thinks they should just be friends because he's afraid that a relationship between them would break apart like his parent's marriage. In an attempt to get Jasper to face his fears, Agnes tries to face one of her own fears - she goes to the lake that Jasper enjoys swimming in, and dives into it from a great height, which Jasper often did, but she was afraid to do. This quickly backfires; as Agnes isn't as good at swimming as Jasper, she ends up drowning before she can reach the shore, and Jasper gets sucked into Deadland when he tries to save her.
  • Grief Song: Agnes's verse of "The Trade" is her preemptively grieving Jasper as he offers to stay in Deadland so she can return to the Living World.
  • Hakuna Matata: "Living Dead" is about all the spirits in Deadland partying and having fun, due to the fact that they've already lost everything except for their souls.
  • Happiness in Mind Control: The threat of memory-loss forces Jasper to save Agnes before he forgets his entire life, but every other person in Deadland seems to be just fine with the knowledge that they've lost their memories. Agnes even suggests giving up their memories again when she starts to remember her life.
  • Hates Their Parent: During "The Killing", Jasper refers to his mother and father as "awful people" for different reasons. After Agnes gets all her memories back, she reveals that she also hates her father due to him being physically abusive.
  • Hidden in Plain Sight: Jasper spends much of the first act looking for Agnes only to learn she's actually lost her memory and thinks she's Gretchen, the tour guide that's been helping him the whole time.
  • Homesickness Hymn: Inverted - the song "Elysium" is about how, after spending a long time away from the Living World, Agnes realizes she doesn't want to return to home to her family.
  • Hope Spot: Agnes regains her memory of Jasper and herself mere seconds before he forgets her and himself.
  • "I Can't Look!" Gesture: Gretchen turns away in shock when Jasper jumps into the Great Gulf and onto the glass bridge in between the two cliffs.
  • I Let Gwen Stacy Die: Jasper blames himself for Agnes's death, because she drowned while trying to face her fear of diving in the hopes it would convince him to face his fear of commitment. When they reunite in Deadland, she has to convince Jasper it wasn't his fault.
  • Inconvenient Attraction: Gretchen starts to develop feelings for Jasper, which is unfortunate because she knows or at least thinks that she can't return to the Living World with him, and he's in love with someone else anyway.
  • Irrational Hatred: Agnes is hated by her own father, because she reminds him of how he was unable to prevent the death of her mother.
  • It's All My Fault:
    • When confessing his misdeeds, Jasper's worst confession is that it's his fault Agnes got stuck in Deadland.
    Jasper: It’s my fault! Agnes is dead because of me! I wasn’t there for her when she needed me.
    • Later, Agnes blames herself for getting Jasper stuck in Deadland, as she declares her death (and Jasper's attempt to prevent it) was her own fault.
  • Junkie Parent: One of Jasper's regrets is that he didn't hide his father's pills after he got out of rehab.
  • Killed Off for Real: Defied. When Jasper is given a death manifest confirming that Agnes is definitely dead, he's horrified, but still doesn't give up on finding her and getting her back to the living world.
  • Laser-Guided Amnesia: Drinking the water of the River Lethe erases your memories the more you drink.
  • Little Dead Riding Hood: Agnes' Iconic Outfit is a red hoodie - which she wears as she drowns near the start of the show.
  • Living Statue: Ammut has multiple living Blind Justices acting as her Chorus Girls.
  • Longing Look: The third verse of "Living Dead" is about Gretchen looking at Jasper this way while watching how desperate he is to find Agnes.
  • Loser Son of Loser Dad: The first line of the show:
    Jasper's Mother: Three C’s, two B’s, and an F, Jasper. You wanna be a failure, like your crack-head father? Do you? Tell me!
  • Love Hurts: All of the main characters wind up getting hurt physically and emotionally due to love.
    • Jasper is emotionally hurt by Agnes' love for him, because he doesn't think he's good enough for her, and he's physically hurt by his own love for her when he risks his life trying to get her back from Deadland.
    • Agnes is emotionally hurt by the fact that Jasper doesn't seem to reciprocate her love for him, and she physically hurts herself when she drowns while trying to face her fears, in an attempt to make him face his fear of commitment.
    • Gretchen literally pulls her heart out and gives it to Jasper, but this doesn't change the fact that he cares about Agnes more than anyone else. Gretchen also can't remember her time in the Living World, so she can't even remember if anyone's loved her as much as Jasper loves Agnes, and she also knows that she can't leave Deadland anyway.
  • Lyrical Dissonance:
    • The opening number is about Jasper having a Near-Death Experience and temporarily reaching the afterlife, but it sounds more like a cheerful, excited goodbye song.
    • The Killing is an energetic song about how horrible humans are because of the ways they waste their lives.
  • The Magic Touch: Jasper restores the lost memories of any Dead citizen he touches, as a side-effect of entering Deadland while still being alive.
  • Make a Wish: Due to being a half-life thanks to Agnes giving him her heart, Jasper is able to have two wishes come true when in the Underworld.
  • Missing Mom: Jasper's mother leaves at start of the show, and Agnes's mother is dead.
  • Mistaken for Gay: Gretchen assumes Jasper is gay when he insists that Agnes is just his friend.
    Gretchen: So you're gay? You're her gay BFF.
    Jasper: No, I'm not gay. I'm very straight, and we're best friends
    Gretchen: "Best friends" with a girl and you ain't tappin' it? That's a new one.
  • My Life Flashed Before My Eyes: "Goodbye Jasper" is sung via a Flashback Sequence as Jasper remembers key memories of him and Agnes.
  • Narnia Time: Implied. Gretchen claims that "Time has no meaning here", and even though Jasper and Agnes enter Deadland within a few minutes of each other, Agnes forgets her entire life, including her name and becomes highly acquainted with Deadland before Jasper has even learned that he is losing his memory.
  • The Needless: The corpses in Deadland still need to drink water (or at least they choose to drink water), however it's implied that they don't need food or sleep, and they also don't need blood or organs.
  • New Life in Another World Bonus: While in Deadland, Jasper has the ability to restore some memories from anyone who he touches.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Gretchen gives Jasper bottled water in the hopes of clearing his head and delaying "The Forgetting", while being unaware that the water in Deadland is what causes "The Forgetting".
  • Nightmarish Factory: Mr Lethe's factory is easily the most Hellish part of Deadland, being an equivalent to Tartarus where wretched souls perform tedious, meaningless tasks for all eternity.
  • No Self-Buffs: Because Jasper entered Deadland while still being alive, his presence inadvertently causes the dead citizens to begin remembering their time in the Living World. This doesn't affect him though, as he slowly loses his memories the same way that everyone else does, even triggering a Third-Person Flashback shortly after forgetting all of his memories.
  • Note to Self: Discussed. Gretchen mentions that she tried to hang on to her memories by writing them down in a notebook - but wound up throwing the book away because trying to think about people she'd probably never see again was more painful than just letting the memories go.
  • Odd Name Out: Unlike most of Deadland's residents, Gretchen doesn't share a name with any particular mythological character.
  • Ominous Crack: The first act ends with the glass bridge over the Great Gulf cracking a few seconds before shattering, sending Jasper and Agnes plummeting into the wasteland.
  • Only Smart People May Pass: Invoked. Cerberus wants to eat Jasper in the hopes that eating a live soul will give it some insight into what it means to be "alive". Jasper narrowly avoids this fate by offering to just tell Cerberus what life is like.
  • Parental Abandonment: Jasper's mom abandons him and her husband at the start of the show. Jasper later admits that he secretly blames himself for this.
  • Place Worse Than Death: Mr Lethe plans on sending Pluto to Cleveland after he overthrows him.
  • The Power of Love: Half-lives are so filled with the love of others that being in the Underworld gives them the power to grant their own wishes.
  • Pre-Sacrifice Final Goodbye: "The Trade" is a short goodbye song between Jasper and Agnes as he chooses to stay in Deadland so she can return to the Living World.
  • Pronouncing My Name for You:
    Ammut: "My name is Ammut. Like 'Dammit'."
  • Real Joke Name: Shown during a flashback of Jasper meeting Agnes:
    Jasper: "Agnes"? What's your real first name? Oh, it's Agnes - holy shit, sorry, I'm new in town.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: The opening is a montage of everyone in Jasper's life lambasting him for a different reason.
  • Rescued from the Underworld: Jasper's goal is to rescue his best friend, Agnes, from Deadland.
  • The Resenter: Mr. Lethe resents being given only a river for his troubles when the other gods got the heavens, seas, and Underworld.
  • Ridiculously Alive Undead: The corpses in Deadland are just like normal humans. They drink bottled water, can smoke cigarettes and hookah, and even though they can't die, they still have functioning organs, as shown when Gretchen tears out her heart to replace Jasper's.
  • Safety in Indifference: Lethe-brand water makes the citizens of Deadland forget their lives, which makes it much easier to be carefree on account of the fact that nobody has any bad memories, nor can they remember anything worth caring about.
  • Sexual Euphemism: Gretchen refers to sex as "tappin' it", Beatrix Portinari refers to sex as "bada-bing" or "being boned", Agnes calls it "You know...", and Jasper after losing his memory uses the phrase "bang one out". Jasper and Agnes also use a variety of euphemisms right before Their First Time.
  • She Is Not My Girlfriend: Jasper says this word-for-word early on and is adamant that he and Agnes are just close friends, but later on he realizes he does love Agnes romantically.
  • Shout-Out:
    Gretchen: I'm a great listener! I'm like Lucy in the Peanuts; just put a nickel in the can. Chink-chink.
    Jasper: Lucy also pulled the football out at the last minute.
    Jasper: OPRAH'S DEAD!?
    Gretchen: No! Don’t be silly! She just transcends time and space.
    • Mr Lethe calls Agnes "The Norma Rae of the Underworld".
  • Side Effects Include...: As Mr. Lethe's secretary reports, drinking Lethe water has quite a few side effects.
    Hathaway: Drink Lethe water responsibly. Side effects may include burping, yodeling, involuntary snapping, jiggly leg, jazz hands, cat fights, scratchy sweater, and sausage fingers.
  • Small Role, Big Impact:
    • Jasper and Agnes talk about their parents in scenes that are vital to the plot and/or their character development; when Cerberus demands to know what it means to be human, Jasper describes his parents as proof that Humans Are Bastards. When Ammut makes Jasper confess his greatest misdeeds, he admits he fears it was his fault that his parents got divorced. When Agnes regains her memories, she remembers that her father was abusive and tells Jasper that they should stay in Deadland. Despite this, all of their parents combined have approximately a minute of time on stage.
    • Ammut is but one of many mythological characters Jasper meets and only appears in one scene, but her tearing out Jasper's heart to weigh it, and then crushing it out of spite, factors heavily into the climax.
  • Snowball Fight: Happens midway through the song "One More Day of Snow".
  • Snow Means Love: The final song is about Jasper and Agnes returning to the surface and promising to love their lives and each other as snow begins falling.
  • Speak in Unison: Agnes speaks in unison with several copies of herself when Jasper's life flashes before his eyes.
  • The Starscream: Mr. Lethe is furious that he was given dominion over his namesake river while the other gods got better deals and plans to overthrow the Roman pantheon, starting with his boss, Pluto.
  • Survival Mantra: Jasper repeats the phrase "Stroke by Stroke" in certain situations.
  • Terms of Endangerment: Little Lunote  refers to Agnes as "pretty kitty" while forcing her and several other souls to work as slaves in a Nightmarish Factory.
  • Together in Death: Agnes suggests that she and Jasper remain in Deadland and give up their memories when she realizes that her life wasn't as great as it seemed.
  • Turning Into Your Parent: Jasper thinks he and Agnes are Better as Friends because he's afraid that a relationship between them would fall apart the same way his parents' relationship failed.
  • Two-Act Structure: Jasper spends Act One searching for his lost friend Agnes, while struggling to stave off the Ghost Amnesia that affects everyone in Deadland. Eventually, with the help of an Afterlife Tour Guide named Gretchen, they reach the bridge to Elysium, where Jasper unintentionally cures Gretchen's amnesia, causing her to realize that she is Agnes... only for Jasper to finally lose the rest of his memory. Then Act Two begins, and Mr Lethe's minions capture them, trapping Agnes in Mr Lethe's factory while Lethe tries to convince Jasper into returning to the surface alone.
  • Two-Person Love Triangle: Gretchen clearly starts falling in love with Jasper while helping him to find his lost friend Agnes. As both of them are suffering from Ghost Amnesia, neither of them realize that Gretchen is Agnes.
  • Villain Recruitment Song: In "Awful People" Mr Lethe tries to get Jasper to supply the Living World with water from the river Lethe, so that he can expand his rule beyond Deadland.
  • Villain Song: Ammut sings "Hungry for your Heart", a song about how she will devour Jasper's heart if he can't confess his greatest misdeed.
  • Warning Song: "Mark This" is about Cerberus warning Jasper about the Ghost Amnesia that will inevitably affect him while in Deadland. Later, "The Forgetting" goes into more detail about how the memory loss happens and what it's like to realize you're fighting a futile battle to hold on to your memories.
  • What the Hell Are You?: When Agnes meets the supervisor of Lethe's Nightmarish Factory:
    Agnes: What are you?
    Little Lu: I'm Little Lu. And if you can believe it, I was an angel once. That's right, pretty kitty, an angel.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Mr. Lethe and his henchmen are never seen or mentioned once Jasper makes his wish to enter Elysium.
  • Who Needs Their Whole Body?: Gretchen rips out her own heart when she needs it to save Jasper, and is totally unfazed by the realization that she isn't getting it back.
  • Yank the Dog's Chain: Jasper loses his last memories at the worst possible moment.
    Agnes: You did it! You came back for me! I knew you felt the same for me as I do for you, I knew you loved me!
    Jasper: I'm sorry, I don't love you.
    Agnes: What? — Jasper don't move the glass is cracking!
    Jasper: Jasper? Who's Jasper?
  • You Can't Kill What's Already Dead: Souls who enter Deadland still have organs, but they don't need them; Gretchen is able to rip her own heart out like it's nothing, and Little Lu threatens his slaves with Cessation of Existence due to the obvious fact that they're already dead.