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Performing Arts

Fort Lewis College opens inventive tribute to Edgar Allan Poe

Ethan Vlchek plays Jock Allan, left, and Travis Carlson is Edgar Allan Poe in the Fort Lewis College Department of Performing Arts’ production of “Nevermore: The Imaginary Life & Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe.” (Courtesy of Michael McKelvey)
'Nevermore’ is a musical fever dream

Halloween isn’t over until it’s over.

That includes the upcoming musical theater homage to Edgar Allan Poe at Fort Lewis College. It opens this weekend and runs through Nov. 11, sending Halloween shivers directly into Thanksgiving dinner.

“Nevermore: The Imaginary Life and Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe” illuminates the tragic life of America’s master of the macabre from infancy through a traumatic adulthood. Created by Jonathan Christenson and staged originally in 2008 by Canada’s Catalyst Theater, the work moved to off-Broadway in 2015 and has been performed everywhere but here since. Last April, “Nevermore” graduated to a concert version for its 15th-year anniversary with the original Canadian cast.

Maya Mouret (Elmira Royster), left, and Travis Carlson (Poe) rehearse at Fort Lewis College. (Courtesy of Michael McKelvey)

Michael McKelvey, assistant professor of musical theater at FLC, said that “Nevermore” is one of his top three favorite musicals. The other two? “Sweeney Todd” and “Heathers,” with “Cabaret” also on a shortlist.

In 2021, McKelvey arrived at FLC to head up the new musical theater major. He sang in the FLC Faculty Showcase that fall. The next spring, he organized a stellar FLC production of “Sweeney.” With his new company, Durango Theatreworks, he mounted an astonishing summer triumvirate: “Heathers,” “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” and Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing.” The following fall semester, McKelvey and his FLC musical theater entourage staged “Cabaret.” To say McKelvey made a big splash in our small town is an understatement.

For fall 2023, McKelvey originally planned “Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812,” which starred Josh Grobin on Broadway. But McKelvey and the FLC Drama Department decided to move that ambitious production into spring 2024.

If you go

WHAT: “Nevermore: The Imaginary Life & Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe,” a musical by Jonathan Christenson, directed by Michael E. McKelvey, Fort Lewis College Department of Performing Arts.

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Nov. Friday, Saturday, Nov. 9, 10, 11; 2 p.m. Sunday. Preperformance talk 6:30 p.m. Saturday.

WHERE: MainStage Theatre, FLC Drama Building, 1000 Rim Drive.

TICKETS: Season ticket packages available or $28 adults, $15 FLC faculty, staff and non-FLC students. Free for FLC students. Available online at www.durangoconcerts.com or by phone at 247-7657.

MORE INFORMATION: Visit www.fortlewis.edu/theatre.

“We needed a show for the November slot,” McKelvey said recently, and “Nevermore” immediately came to mind.

“I tried to find something in the Halloween spirit, which would also be a unique theatrical experience for our students and audience,” he said. “‘Nevermore’ is completely unique with its underscored metered rhyming verse and eclectic songs.”

The musical begins as the adult Poe (Travis Carlson) rides on a steamer bound for New York City, and he reflects back on his life. A troupe of traveling players are also on board. With Poe, they reenact his story, from infancy marked by parental illness, loss and abandonment, to ill-fated foster care, romantic disappointments, more loss and, of course, his work as a writer.

In its form, “Nevermore” may be old-fashioned storytelling, but it creatively mixes musical styles. From jaunty cabaret songs and music-box ditties to rock ballads, composer Christenson has created a compelling, through-sung musical. It’s entirely built on Poe’s metered lines, which structure the life review.

“The show is done with tracks as it was also done off-Broadway, I believe,” McKelvey said of the musical accompaniment. “The tracks have over 100 sound effects built into them, which makes the overall underscoring more of a soundscape than a conventional score.

“I’ve directed and produced the show twice before in Austin, Texas,” he said. “The first production received numerous awards. The props here, which are one of my favorite aspects of the show, are all from the Austin production.

Travis Carlson (Poe) rehearses with Katelyn Bowie and Lilia Reynolds as the Misses Duval (Poe’s teachers). (Courtesy of Michael McKelvey)

“Since arriving in at FLC and starting Durango Theatreworks, I have tried to pick shows that will either be new to the FLC theater department and the Durango audience (‘Nevermore,’ ‘Heathers’ and ‘Eurydice’) or bring a new take on some ‘stage classics’ (‘Sweeney, ‘Cabaret,’ etc.),” he said. “It is my hope that ‘Nevermore’ will be a theatrical experience that everyone will talk about for years to come.”

Judith Reynolds is an arts journalist and member of the American Theatre Critics Association.