By Ronnie Ruff
Photos by Carol Pratt
Nevermore Director Eric Schaeffer describes his show as a cross between musical theatre and Cirque du Soleil. The show has the feel of such an event, the excitement, the anticipation of what is to come, this is usually the case with a brand new show. But there is more than just the anticipation of a new work, it begins as we are lead to our seats — the wind whistles through the bare trees and the night’s silence is parted by a haunting laugh by a woman dressed as if going to a Victorian wedding. Women in dark gothic costume mingle with the theatre patrons searching for their seats. There is a dark sinister feel to the space — people are gazing at the beautiful yet eerie stage. Then the lights go down and the orchestra plays the first notes of Alone.
One of the most important building blocks of any piece of musical theatre is the music. Composer Matt Conner has characterized the music as gospel inspired pop that at times is on the verge of rock. Power ballads that grab your heart and twist — one could imagine the same music performed by a power rock band. The rock flavoring spills forth often not only in the music but also in the Goth inspired costumes and set. The set is a surreal blend of beauty and chilly, cemetery spookiness. A door, open as if beckoning for one to enter, sits alone in the center of the set. A line of bare leafless trees on either side of the set guide the eye to the door. The door could be symbolic, a door to Poe’s soul or a symbol of the gates to hell. The full moon to the right of the door glows on a cold winter night, it’s light serving to partially illuminate the orchestra. The color scheme is of course dark, black and deep night blues, there is a nip in the air. Costumes by Jenn Miller are simply fabulous, from Poe’s dark period suit and platform boots to A Whore’s nineteenth century bustier.
Nevermore is a huge dream, one that tells a loose story of Poe’s life. The dream ebbs and flows — the women of Poe’s life crash his dream and create managed chaos as he drinks himself into a horrible dark world of fear and terror. Poe, sometimes referred to in the script as Eddie by his young wife Virginia (Lauren Williams), is played by Daniel Cooney who does a great job as the tortured soul that was Edgar Allan Poe. A far sexier version than the original, Cooney commands pity and lust from the women who would be his love interests but no pity from his mother and aunt who see him for what he is. Cooney portrays Poe with the flair of a rock band front man and the sensitivity of a well trained actor — his vocal performance is steady and inspired, each of his numbers moving and emotional.
The rest of the cast are made up of the women in Edgar’s life, his mother, aunt, love interests and a single prostitute who represents his promiscuous lifestyle. All of the female performances are simply splendid — there are a variety of wonderful voices, all a bit different, that do the material justice and make it their own. Virginia (Ms Williams) is the taunting Lolita and as the play progresses develops a scary, macabre feel to her character. She is erotically stimulated by Poe’s horror stories and the masturbation depiction was charged with creepy, shocking electricity. Her duet with Eddie in the Bridal Ballad is stunning. Elmira, Po’s first love, is portrayed by Jacquelyn Piro whose sci-fi coiffure will remain in my mind’s eye for days to come. She has a very assured stage presence and her duets, Silence and Fairyland, are sung with vibrant passion. Poe’s mother played by Florence Lacey does a fantastic job with Evening Star and her haunting laughs lingered in my memory long after curtain call. Maria “Muddy” Clemm (Poe’s Aunt) was the least interesting character in the production, this is not to fault Channez McQuay who did what she could with the part, sadly the part was just not well developed. Saving the most unique performance for last Amy McWilliams is blessed with the part known only as A Whore. McWilliams is almost raven like, she symbolizes Poe’s use of prostitutes throughout his life, his passion for the dark side of the street. Her numbers El Dorado and Eldorado Reprise are simply wonderful songs that are brilliantly conceived and sung.
Without doubt the most interesting show I have seen in quite a while, Nevermore is stylish, sexy and smart — it is a Gothic dreamscape that is pure entertainment. Signature has gained a reputation as Washington’s home for Musical Theatre and Nevermore just reinforces that reputation. A must see if you can still get a ticket!
Music by Matt Conner, book by Grace Barnes Signature Theatre, 3806 S. Four Mile Run, Arlington 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Sundays. Through Feb. 26. TICKETS: $31 to $55