“Once upon a cold and stormy, wet and miserable winter’s day” is where the story of Edgar Allan Poe begins, or so say the Players in the Tullahoma High School theater department’s spring production.

Beginning this weekend, the student thespians will open a gothic musical based on the life and death of the famed and tragic poet in “Nevermore: The Imaginary Life and Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe.”

This strange and extraordinary musical tale is one of the actors’ most ambitious yet, according to theater teacher and director Aaron Miller.

“We’ve never done anything like it,” he said. “Typically our musicals have been fairytales or Disney fantasy-based things, and we wanted to deviate from that and try something different.”

The theater class at THS is no stranger to trying new and different things, however, as just last year the group staged a mostly-female production of William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.”

According to Miller, this spring production follows in the same vein as “Hamlet,” with the group selecting a production that has “meat” to it.

“That’s kind of been our M.O. since I’ve been here,” Miller said, “What can we do? What’s different? What’s going to give the students something they’ve never had before, challenges they’ve never experienced before? What can we do that we’ve not done?”

 

Musical history

“Nevermore” is the brainchild of Canadian playwright Jonathan Christenson. It was originally produced at the Catalyst Theatre in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, in 2009 before enjoying a brief stint in London and New York City in 2010.

According to the website for the production, “Nevermore” was originally designed to coincide with the bicentennial anniversary of Poe’s birth in January 1809.

“A literary rock star in his day,” the site says, “Poe struggled with tragedy and addiction, poverty and loss, yet produced some of the world’s most original, visionary and enduring literature before dying in unexplained circumstances at the age of 40.”

The story follows the tragic life of the 19th-century writer, and, in true Poe fashion, “blurs the line between fact and fiction.” The majority of the script contains factual events of Poe’s life, using some events to fictionalize Poe’s internal struggles that eventually inspired some of his works and giving life to Poe’s words that “all that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream.”

The story is told through a mix of choreographed movements and song, though the musical doesn’t involve the typical dance breaks, Miller said.

“It’s not a fantast where you’ve got dance breaks,” he said, “but there’s choreography.”

The choreography comes in the form of “stylized movement” that enhances the storytelling, Miller said.

 

Putting their own spin on things

One thing that separates the high school’s production from the original theatrical setup is some of the aesthetic choices, according to Miller.

“Thematically, how we’re approaching this is different than what they did on Broadway,” he said.

While the Broadway production involved “bizarre costume choices and makeup choices,” the ImprovaTeers are taking a more steampunk approach to the costumes – “something that aligns more with Edgar Allan Poe,” according to Miller.

The “Nevermore” website also says that different productions over the years have molded the performance, with “several new songs added and structural changes made to the original script” since 2010.

The Tullahoma production features THS senior Garrett Sanders as Poe, the tortured artist with a tragic life.

According to Miller, this will be Sanders’ first acting role in a musical. Miller said Sanders made it to his final year in high school and decided to try out for the show, which Miller respected.

Rounding out the cast are Jake Bennett, Douglas Tilley, Tucker Johnson, Juliette Orihuela, Isabelle Miller, Keana Cobarde, Tristan Miller, Grace Austell, Katelyn Hamilton, Angel Brown, Beth Coate, Courtney Songer, Ariana Newson, Haylie Overholser, Benson Lin, Seren Yelk, Jada Buchanan, Alyson Newsom, Meghan Hobbs, Sydney Lloyd and Briana Aldrich.

  

What to expect

When asked what audiences should expect of the production, Miller said those wishing to see the show should prepare to “expect the unexpected.”

“They should expect something that’s never been done here before,” he said. “It’s a really good story with lots of really meaningful music.”

Audiences might also learn a thing or two about the poet and author they hadn’t previously known.

“In high school you learn that he was an alcoholic and we wrote these macabre stories, but through this we’ve discovered some things about him,” Miller said. “The man had a terrible childhood and a lot of loss, and I think that really informs this particular story.”

Additionally, Miller said audiences should expect to see young actors taking on a challenging performance with great skill.

“What they should look forward to is watching a bunch of high school-level students take on a Broadway-level show and do exceptionally well with it,” he said.

“Nevermore: The Imaginary Life and Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe” opens at 7 p.m. this Friday, April 26. Additional show times are 7 p.m. on Saturday, April 27, Friday, May 3 and Saturday May 4; and 2 p.m. on Sunday, April 28.

Tickets are available now at thetheatre.booktix.com or improvateers.com. Tickets may also be purchased through the front office of THS or at the door on show nights. Ticket price is $15 for adults and $12 for students. All online ticket sales include a small processing fee.

For more information, visit improvateers.com.

Erin McCullough may be reached at emccullough@tullahomanews.com.