WARNING: Contains Spoilers
As our museum reported earlier this year, a musical by the name of Nevermore: the Imaginary Life and Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe made its debut off-Broadway in New York City at New World Stages. Written, composed, and directed by Jonathan Christenson, the musical follows the birth and early life of Poe, touching lightly on the later half of his life before ending abruptly with his death. Sets, lighting, and costumes were designed by Bretta Gerecke, with sound design by Wade Staples. You can read more credits here.
Although I was unable to see the show during its New York run, I recently received the CD newly released June 14th, and the following will be a brief review of the story, music, sound design, and overall actors’ performances.
The opening song, “Prologue,” crescendos from a fadeout-to-fade-in note with forceful beats interrupting the ease of the first note. Waves crash, a harbor bell tolls, and piano plinks sound. A music box tinkles, and one of the “Eldorado Players” chimes, introducing the audience to a man, “a most peculiar man,” whom they had met on a steamer on his way to New York-Poe. They explain that although he looked “dreary,” he was still full of hope. The theme of hope and loss encapsulates the entire musical.
As each of the six players’ voices gradually add their own testimony of Poe, Poe (Scott Shpeley) himself comes out and inquires about his mother, whom one of the players knows, and he yearns to hear about the life he seemingly has forgotten. Thus, the audience is at the mercy of the players telling Poe’s life, starting from the beginning, and Eliza Poe’s involvement with theatre and her husband, David Poe. The audience is quickly introduced to Rosalie (Beth Graham), Henry (Gaelan Beatty), David (Garett Ross), and Eliza (Lindsie VanWinkle), and just as each song, each chapter closes with the loss of someone close to Poe, another chapter opens. The musical continues with the theme of gain and loss, life and death, and the audience becomes overwhelmingly immersed in Poe’s life and struggle to want to live, to hold on to hope.
Upon listening to the soundtrack (admittedly multiple times now), there are many gems and delights, which cater to Poe enthusiasts, as well as some questionably creative rights taken to interpret certain characters and their outcomes. For example, Fanny Allan’s character gradually becomes synonymous with a familiar character in The System of Dr. Tarr and Professor Fether, (namely the “chicken”). Another example of creative rights expanding beyond historical truth is the fact that Rufus Griswold (Ryan Parker) and Edgar were very good friends before Griswold destroyed his reputation (which is not true) and took Edgar’s place as editor for Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine. It is astonishing that Graham’s Magazine was nowhere to be found, but at least one of Poe’s editorial jobs was mentioned.
A few gems include the songs in general, which incorporate many of Poe’s poems, including “Eulalie,” “Tamerlane,” and “Dream Within A Dream,” using snippets from stanzas to convey Poe’s circumstances and feelings, as well as the other characters’ feeling, throughout the musical. Not to mention that a musical interpretation of Virginia’s poem, “Ever With Thee…” can be found in the song, “The Death of Sissy.”
I feel one could write pages regarding what was correct and what was historically inaccurate; however, everything seems to work. I would recommend reading a biography of Poe to check the facts rather than gain them from this musical.
Over all, the dark, gloomy, atmospheric tone of the music seems like a lullaby that carries one through Poe’s seemingly haunted, ethereal life, which Christenson accomplished flawlessly. The sound effects are cleverly distributed throughout the recorded album, giving the feel to one who wasn’t present to see the performance live a chance to experience it on their own. Finally, the casting choice was incredible. Beth Graham’s vocal talents and knack for voice interpretation are beyond belief. Gaelan Beatty’s vibrato rings with purity and distinction. Shannon Blanchett’s alto tones add to the haunting dynamic successfully portrayed, both in her character, Elmira, and in songs where harmony is called for. Ryan Parker’s voice belts richly and cleverly. Garett Ross’s similar knack for voice impressions, namely portraying a Scottish accent with John Allan, is fun and a thrill. Lindsie VanWinkle has a pristine voice that rings flawlessly and fully. Finally, Scott Shpeley’s performance as Edgar is remarkably done, with his ability to shift between the timid young Edgar, to the frightened child in the Allan household, to the confident man bold about his writing skills, to the man who, ultimately, ends up dejected and lost.
If you are interested in listening to the musical soundtrack, you can purchase it from the following places:
Have you either seen or listened to the musical? What did you think?