Nevermore at The New Victory

In keeping with the Halloween spirit Culturebot went to see Nevermore: The Imaginary Life and Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe by Edmonton, Canada’s Catalyst Theatre, now playing at the New Victory Theater.

At first glance the life of Edgar Allan Poe wouldn’t seem like great fodder for a musical. Orphaned at an early age, taken in by a doting adoptive mother (who would soon die) and indifferent stepfather, living a life that was largely lovelorn, bereft, poverty-stricken and alcoholic and dying of mysterious circumstances in the street, the story of Mr. Poe is not the satisfying kind of narrative one expects in a musical. But the Catalyst Theatre takes on the material with a decidedly gothic bent and makes a dark fairy tale that resonates with young people. Focusing the entire first half of the two-hour show on Poe’s childhood, he is portrayed as a sensitive young man, early beset by troubles. The young Poe is portrayed as innocent and wide-eyed, with an overactive imagination, constantly clutching an oversized book and quill, pushed and pulled this way and that, always at the mercy of elements beyond his control. Sounds like a typical childhood to me.

The costumes and set are dark, macabre and stylish, the music is moody, bordering on operatic – especially since most of the story is told in exposition, there’s very little dialogue per se. With the exception of young Poe, played by one actor throughout with a naivete reminiscent of Edward Scissorhands, the very talented cast play many different characters including some creepy crawly Raven puppets that lurk ominously in the background. They actors are deft at handling the outsize characters making them both human and cartoonish.

Culturebot doesn’t see a lot of theater made for young people and fortunately NEVERMORE doesn’t pander. There is plenty to enjoy for adult audiences and young audiences alike. The New Victory has done a great job in presenting the work, to the extent of having a dramaturgical exhibit in the downstairs lobby that recounts the highlights of Poe’s life and his work as a writer. While it is geared for younger audiences, the exhibit clarifies some of the things that happen in the play, and is a thoughtful companion component, making the entire theatrical experience richer.

NEVERMORE is smart, fun, engaging theater for young audiences. It goes to show that you don’t have to pander when presenting work to young people – that you can make work that is both entertaining and educational, with extraordinary stagecraft and high standards, and still reach audiences in this always-on, twitter-ified entertainment multiverse.

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