Matt Doyle and Allison Scagliotti Bring Life to the Afterlife in Off-Broadway's Jasper in Deadland
By Michael Gioia
Stage actor Matt Doyle and screen actress Allison Scagliotti are the conflicted teenagers who venture through the underworld in Ryan Scott Oliver and Hunter Foster's Jasper in Deadland, which plays the Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew in its Off-Broadway premiere.
Matt Doyle and Allison Scagliotti, fresh off their March 26 opening night of Prospect Theater Company's Jasper in Deadland, sat down at a midtown-area Starbucks the next day and recounted their post-show karaoke excursions.
"Last night, she just left!" Doyle explained. "She does this thing that my friend said, 'That might be the greatest party trick I've ever seen in my life.' She knows every single word and performs the hell out of [Digital Underground's] 'The Humpty Dance.'"
"Here's the deal," revealed Scagliotti. "I'm so hesitant to share this with the world, but the thing is, I've been doing it for a few years, and it is my signature. I desperately don't want anyone to steal it, but I'm sure I'm not the only person in the universe that does this… I didn't think you could sing at karaoke and just be an 'okay' singer. You're either an amazing singer or you're terrible. And, I thought, 'My way around that is I'm going to rap,' and I happen to be kind of great at it. So, I chose this song that's old and a crowd-pleaser, and my other signature move is that I drop the mic, and I leave. I must leave. That is my way I punctuate doing that song… You don't do that and then hang around to talk about it afterwards. You have to like…let people process it."
Doyle and Scagliotti, who have become fast friends in Jasper in Deadland — bonding over karaoke, dance moves and originating a role in a New York City musical — co-star as the teenage Jasper and his newfound (otherworldly) friend Gretchen, respectively, in the new Off-Broadway musical. When Jasper's best friend Agnes falls to her death, he journeys into the underworld to save her life. Stroke by stroke, they aim to make it out alive.
"Walking into rehearsal the first day, [I] was more nervous than I have ever been in my entire career," admitted Scagliotti, "because it was a challenge that I never faced before." Deadland is Scagliotti's first musical endeavor, having performed in film and TV (Disney's "Drake & Josh," SyFy's "Warehouse 13") since age 11.
"It is my first musical, but my relationship with musicals began when I was a small child in Louisiana, completely on the outskirts of my social group and not feeling fulfilled by anything else. My parents took me to see the touring company of Phantom of the Opera in 1997 at the Saenger Theatre in New Orleans, and I'll never forget it. I remember so vividly being brought home with a giant Phantom mask on my tiny seven-year-old face and running around trying to belt all the songs from the show," she said. "Just a few years ago, I was living here [and] going to NYU, and I went to see American Idiot, which was the first musical I'd seen in years, and it bit me again… I was overwhelmed by how natural and familiar it felt, and I immediately just thought, 'Oh, God. I have to go home. I have to do this again.'"
Scagliotti was approached by Deadland director Brandon Ivie, whom she worked with on a production of Unhealthy at HERE Arts Center. Ivie sent her a message, via Facebook, asking if she was interested in inhabiting Deadland, although the musical's premiere coincided with pilot season. The frequent film actress was immediately won over with the material.
"It's everything that I've been wanting to do since I was five years old, [even though it was] in the middle of pilot season — and right when my Canadian boyfriend can be in Los Angeles — but it was an opportunity that I couldn't pass up."
Doyle couldn't pass up the opportunity either when composer-lyricist Oliver reached out to the actor, via text.
"I've always loved [Ryan's] music, and I've always loved his shows, but I actually haven't sung some of his stuff in a really long time, and so he literally texted me one night — it was probably one in the morning, and I was with [boyfriend] Ryan [Steele]. 'Do you want to star in my Off-Broadway musical?' was the text," said Doyle. After receiving the Jasper material, he thought, "This is exactly what I want to do right now post-Book of Mormon, and I want to be creatively fulfilled and work on something special and small and unique… You don't get to do small projects like this in a church on the Upper West Side, you know?"
Jasper in Deadland, ironically housed within the walls of an uptown church — and loosely based on the Greek tale of Orpheus and Eurydice — thrusts 17-year-old Jasper into the underworld when his best friend Agnes makes a rash decision to jump off a cliff and into a lake, falling to her death. Jasper, whose heart is wounded from his parents' destructive relationship, aims to rescue Agnes without falling too fast for his best friend and possibly tainting their relationship.
"He's terrified," explains Doyle, whose character Jasper is greeted in the underworld by Gretchen (Scagliotti). "I think he's absolutely horrified of — somebody he really, really, truly cares about — hurting her or being hurt by her. A friendship is safe. Going beyond that is only going to lead to pain and heartbreak, and that is the scariest thing for him. What's lovely about it is, Jasper really starts to discover — being in Deadland and watching these zombie-like, unaffected creatures down there — that pain and heartbreak and growth are important things in life and that you can't have love without pain, and that's okay. It's okay to face demons along the way, and that's what's going to make every great moment even better."
Along the way, Doyle's Jasper and Scagliotti's Gretchen encounter both good and evil in Deadland, a world somewhere between the realms of heaven and hell in which mythical creatures challenge their tenacity and where their souls are slightly altered as time passes.
"I don't really know what I believe happens after our physical vessel expires and there is this remainder of energy that we call a soul," explained Scagliotti. "But, I love the idea that we play with in Deadland — you go somewhere and you become your alter ego. You become the opposite of all your hang-ups and your pain that you had in the real world. That was my approach to the difference between Gretchen and Agnes. Maybe this is a spoiler, but as I had to determine what it was that made Gretchen a separate character from Agnes, I just realized that she had to be her opposite. Where Agnes felt like unwanted and rejected, Gretchen felt completely confident and embraced. And, where Agnes felt sensually unsure, Gretchen was a sexual being. That was my afterlife approach."
"If I had seen this show when I was 17, I would be obsessed," admitted Doyle. "And, I am obsessed with it now, but I'm just picturing myself — the kid who used to stage door Rent all the time — I would have died for this show."
Doyle and Scagliotti continue to face death in Deadland through April 13.
(Playbill.com staff writer Michael Gioia's work appears in the news, feature and video sections of Playbill.com as well as in the pages of Playbill magazine. Follow him on Twitter at @PlaybillMichael.)
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