By GUY D’ASTOLFO
Robert Dennick Joki’s Rust Belt Theater Company will take a dark turn this weekend when it presents the premiere of “Nevermore!,” a musical based on the writings of Edgar Allan Poe.
Joki and Josh Taylor wrote the musical, which will run for six performances over three consecutive weekends.
Rust Belt devotes its season entirely to locally written productions, but the subject matter is usually on the comedic side. Not this time.
“‘Nevermore!’ is much darker than most of the shows we’ve done recently,” said Joki. “We do a lot of parodies, but every once in a while it’s nice to experiment with something a little different.”
Joki said the production is set up like a macabre, goth-rock version of “CATS” or “Godspell.”
“But instead of acting out the poetry of T.S. Eliot or the parables of the Bible in a junkyard setting, we wrote the show around the writing of Edgar Allan Poe and placed it in an insane asylum,” he said.
Some of the stories, such as “The Tell Tale Heart,” “The Black Cat,” “Annabel Lee” and “Berenice,” serve as the backstory for individual inmates, while others, such as “The Masque of the Red Death,” “The Pit and The Pendulum,” “The Oval Portrait” and “The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether,” unfold as the plot of the musical advances. All of the music, by the way, is original.
“Nevermore!” takes its title from the famous line (“Quoth the Raven, ‘Nevermore’”) in Poe’s quintessential poem “The Raven,” which is the string that ties together the musical.
In the musical, Joki strived to use Poe’s words as the master of macabre wrote them, and largely succeeded.
“Poe uses a lot of similar themes in his writing — lost love, the ocean, death, dreams, dismemberment — so it was an exciting challenge to try and weave as much of his work into the plot as possible,” said Joki. “Only two lines, at the very end of the entire script, were added by the writing team. The remaining lyrics and dialog all come from Poe.”
The cast of “Nevermore!” includes Nicole Zayas, Kage Coven, Geri Dewitt, Taylor Jordyn, Hunter Thomas, Nicholas Forgac, JoEllen Jacob, Taylor, David Cirelli, Marisa Zamary, Beth Farrow, Rachel Clifford, Starr McClure, Celena Coven and Joki. Choreography is by Zamary.
Starting off the season with a piece better suited for Halloween is unusual. But there is a method to Joki’s madness.
“I thought it would be an awesome way to enter the holiday season, which is always our busiest time of year,” he said. “It will be interesting to see how an experimental piece like this competes with our usual comedy fare. If it’s successful, we have a dark retelling of Lewis Carroll’s writing in the works for fall of 2014.”
Rust Belt will bring back a retooled “Living Dead: The Musical” after “Nevermore!” to fill the Halloween slot. Joki and company have been updating the hilarious production, which premiered last year. “Look forward to new musical numbers, bigger laughs, beefed up lighting and sound and more blood and dancing zombies,” he said.