Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Also see Gil's review of Saturday Night Fever
Nevermore is presented as a memory play, in which the adult Poe, upon encountering an acting troop, looks back on his life, with the actors playing the people in his past. Poe's life was full of regret and loss, especially considering that just about every person close to him died or went insane. Providing book, music, and lyrics, Christenson attempts to show how these horrific life experiences and Poe's own inner demons, due to years of addiction, were the catalyst and inspiration for his literary works.
Atmospherically spooky and haunting, though never truly terrifying or scary, Nevermore is weird and mesmerizing, and incredibly operatic in nature. Christenson's script includes intricate rhymes in the dialogue and lyrics, much in the style of Poe's works, with a score consisting of dreamy, trance-like music. While material from Poe's actual work are mostly kept off stage, with just a few of his famous phrases incorporated into the piece, the second act includes a soaring and powerful musical adaptation of his most famous work "The Raven," which includes a few lines from his poem "Lenore," making for a highly effective, driving showstopper infused with dreamlike elements. However, as entertaining as the piece is, the ending seems a bit drawn out and doesn't quite wrap up everything that came before in a truly satisfying way.
With a superb cast, stunning creative elements, and an assured use of the entire Greasepaint stage, Peter Bish is making an auspicious directorial debut. As there is great depth to the story and almost the entire show is sung, I have to imagine this isn't an easy piece to direct, but based on the terrific opening night performance, Bish manages to make it seem like he's been directing for years.
Christenson's script paints the famous author as agonized, mournful and melancholy, and Bennet Wood beautifully portrays Poe with a poignant sense of purity and grace as well as a deep, tormented sadness that immediately creates an immensely sympathetic character. The remaining cast members play multiple characters with ease and skill. There isn't a weak member in the cast. Paige Corbin is excellent in several parts, including the woman who seeks to adopt Poe, his younger sister, and his child bride. As the girl whom Poe becomes enamored with, Johnna Watson creates a beautiful portrait of strength, mystery, and a hint of pained regret. Grant Roberts excels as Poe's estranged surrogate father, while Savannah Thompson does well as Poe's self-absorbed mother.
Jacob Shore, Mark Munoz, and Taylor Penn serve as the main narrators. All three have exceptional singing voices that shine and instill a deep sense of theatricality to the poetic cadence and tone of the sung recitative. The cast is rounded out by a sweet-natured Zac Denious and a conniving Liam Thibeault, as Poe's brother and his devious literary rival, respectively, and Matthew Villarreal, Hailey Palmer, and Lucia Williams, all of whom get a few moments to shine.
The production's design elements are highly stylized in a stunning combination of Goth and steampunk elements and the visual style of a Tim Burton film. While the show is using a recorded track that is wonderful, musical director Curtis Moeller ensures the cast navigates their way through the huge amount of sung material with ease, while providing numerous beautiful sounding harmonies. Choreographer April Rozier provides some effective dance and movement for a few key scenes. The highly stylized black and white costumes by Benjamin Bozovich are simply stunning; each costume is distinctive and incredibly creative. Marylou Montgomery's hair and make-up designs feature excellent pallid, ghostly white complexions and imaginative hair styles. The static set design from Chase Budden, Erick Beeck, and Bish uses a combination of wooden planks and metal pieces to create a period feel full of darkness and mystery, with effective props from Maureen Dias-Watson, while Stacey Walstons lighting complements the moody, dark tone.
As dramatized in Nevermore, Poe's life proves to be as fascinating as the many memorable characters and stories he wrote. High on style and full of substance, the only downside to the musical is a lack of a truly big message to pull everything together at the end. Still, with an excellent cast, imaginative creative elements, and sure-footed direction, Greasepaint's production is highly effective, a deep, dark, somewhat humorous and fairly satisfying presentation of this new musical.
Nevermore, the Imaginary Life and Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe runs through August 5th, 2017, at Greasepaint Youth Theatre at 7020 E. 2nd Street, in Scottsdale AZ. For information and to purchase tickets call (480) 949-7529 or visit www.greasepaint.org.
Book, Music and Lyrics by Jonathan Christenson