Review #1 of 2: Nevermore, The Imaginary Life and Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe by Doctuh Mistuh Productions
by David Glen Robinson

Nevermore: The Imaginary Life and Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe is aptly named.  Doctuh Mistuh Productions in association with Austin Playhouse has boldly tackled this new musical by Jonathan Christenson. The scenario is straightforward, almost simple. Edgar Allan Poe (played by Tyler Jones) stands by himself on the deck of a ship returning to New York. Seemingly by chance, a theatrical troupe encounters him there. Poe is in that period of his life when he was enjoying some success, and to the troupe he was a rock star. They show him their interpretations of his writings and tell him some of the events of his life. That’s the scenario. The play follows, in performance, Poe’s early life to the scenario-present and beyond. The performers, quite mysteriously, show Poe in flashbacks, dreams, and nightmares the critical turning points in his life that inspired his greatest works.  


Although the scenario is fairly simple, it gives rise to a very complex production even by musical theatre’s higher standards for technical production. The complexities are compounded, too, by the fact that Poe is the favorite writer, bar none, of a large number of  people, this reviewer among them. Poe aficionados don’t allow too much messing around with him. Doctuh Mistuh Productions must be getting used to high expectations and technical difficulties by now, because they did an excellent job of the production, mastering the technical issues, transcending their technique in performance, and giving the audience a satisfying evening of performing art on multiple levels. And it was all for a modest ticket price.


Nevermore Stephen Mercantel, Megan Rabuse, Tyler Jones, Jess Hughes, Joey Banks Aaron Johnson (photo: Doctuh Mistuh Productions) 


Tyler Jones, Jess Hughes (photo: Doctuh Mistuh)

The first level of appreciation in this show is the costume design. The design aesthetic was a successful kind of abstract/Goth/Edward Gorey/upper-class-nineteenth-century blend. Black and white unified the concept, with gold accessories and red accents to signify blood and suffering and lots of both. Most pleasing to the judgmental was the unification of costume concept with styling and make-up. Best of all was the consistency across a large number of characters enacted by the cast. Truly, the production company and theatre opened the coffers of fabric and design brilliance for the show. Glenda Wolfe takes the well-deserved costume design credit with costume supervisor Jordan Visage and dresser Lowell Thomas Bundick.  


The cast wearing those costumes was comprised of talented actors and singers across the board. In addition to Tyler Jones, they are Stephen Mercantel, Matt Connely, Joey Banks, Jessica Hughes, Suzanne Balling, and Megan Rabuse. They toiled under the direction of stage and music director Michael McKelvey, assisted in musical direction by Adam Roberts.  


Tyler Jones as the title character began the show with a lot of stillness, silences, and puzzled and pained looks as the theatre troupe sang and danced around him.In his childhood scenes he largely looked on while others sang.Jones came to the fore with the singing of the inspirational “Israfel” in tenor. Thereafter, he led most of the songs in the production numbers.  


Suzanne Balling is truly incomparable, having the talent—or magical gift—to live through and embody any number of characters. She has the breadth to flash through characters like quicksilver, yet convince the audience in that short time that they are all real.  


Suzanne Balling (photo: Doctuh Mistuh)


Stephen Mercantel is flexible in body and voice, and he is chameleonic in character, a good match with Balling. Mercantel takes the stage like some feline who’s gone into acting.  


Megan Rabuse gave us a giggly, shallow Elmira Royster. Her characterization was a refreshing counterpoint to many of the tragic characters.  


Another gem in this show was the choreography by Rocker Verastique. The dances by the ensemble were vibrant and varied and well performed.  The cast committed to the work without any finessing holdouts.  


The music in the show was canned, not live, with the merciful effect of reducing the complexities of the production. The sound piped through Austin Playhouse’s sound system was clear and unhindered by glitches of any kind.  


The absolute pinnacle of Nevermore: The Imaginary Life and Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe is “The Raven,” a song led by Tyler Jones with the cast. The poem is one of the best-known poems in the world, written by Poe in a spate of inspiration as he sat in vigil by the bed of his dying wife, Sissy Clemm. Every middle school student of any sensitivity who has ever read it, from Poe’s time until now, has taken The Raven under emotional ownership. They claim it. Readers find the multiple sources of their own sorrows, uncertainties, and fears in that one poem. This reviewer can vouch.For a playwright to copyright a song about it and for a production company to pay licensing fees to produce the play and the song does indeed confer certain outward, formal rights, or ownership.But in a more profound sense that form of ownership must defer to and be shared with the generations of people who have claimed this work of art in their hearts. Every line of the poem is in the song sung by Tyler Jones. The music captures the poem’s lowering atmosphere of foreboding and ultimate existential fear that flies out of the darkness on ebony wings. The song is performed with all the respect and beauty of expression that the tenderness and vulnerability of our hearts deserve. Extraordinarily well done.  


Nevermore: The Imaginary Life and Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe is not to be missed by anyone who has secretly shed a tear while reading a poem.  The show runs from October 21 to November 5 at Austin Playhouse, central Austin.  



Click to view Doctuh Mistuh Productions' program for Nevermore


Nevermore, The Imaginary Life and Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe
by Jonathan Christenson
Doctuh Mistuh Productions

October 21 - November 05, 2016
Austin Playhouse
6001 Airport Boulevard
Austin, TX, 78752

 October 21 - November 5, 2016

Thursdays - Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 5 p.m. 

with additional performances on Wednesday, Oct 26 & Monday, Oct 31 at 8 p.m. and Saturday, Oct 29 at 3 p.m.

WHERE: Austin Playhouse at ACC’s Highland Campus

6001 Airport Blvd., Austin, TX 78752

Tickets: $30 general admission, $27 seniors, $15 students plus fees

 on-line ticketing HERE


BOX OFFICE: Call 512.476.0084 or email