A new musical about the life and writings of Edgar Allan Poe will have its world premiere this month at Weber State University.
“The House of Edgar Allan Poe,” staged by students in the university’s musical theater program, opens Friday, Nov. 15, in the Browning Center at Weber State University in Ogden.
“It’s a brand new musical that has never been staged before,” said Andrew Barratt Lewis, the show’s director and an assistant professor of musical theater. “It’s had a couple of readings ... but we are the first to do it as a full production — this is the world premiere of ‘The House of Edgar Allan Poe.’”
The book and music were created by New York-based music and theater artist Morgan Hollingsworth. Musical director is by Kenneth Plain.
Lewis said the musical is about both Poe’s life and his works. It takes place just before the death of his wife, when he’s reflecting on his life and a childhood friend comes to visit. The theatrical piece is seen in flashbacks to important moments of Poe’s life.
Lewis says the production blurs the line between Poe’s life and his writings.
“As an audience, we can’t tell where fact and fiction blend,” he explained. “We can’t tell if it’s the truth or one of his stories. And as the musical goes on, it becomes even more and more blurred.”
Lewis said the production is “very much in the style of Poe — a little creepy and spooky,” but that it also explores his frequent theme of unrequited love and the loss of love.
A musical about Edgar Allan Poe may seem curious to some, but Lewis believes it works well.
“I think Morgan has done a great job of capturing in music some of the angst and longing that Poe has in his works, as well as creating a script that kind of mirrors Poe’s own works,” he said.
Although Hollingsworth incorporated into the musical some 60 different works by Poe, Lewis said the plot loosely follows Poe’s 1839 short story “The Fall of the House of Usher.”
“It’s that story’s basic structure, but inserting Poe’s own life experiences into it,” Lewis said.
Regardless of your level of Poe knowledge, Lewis says he thinks there’s something for everyone in the musicial.
“I like the creepier, scarier things — the things that turn your perspective on its head,” Lewis said of Poe’s writings. “But the most fascinating thing is exploring the items in his life that some may not know about.”
Lewis says Poe went into a deep depression after his wife passed away; indeed, he only lived a couple of years after that.
“He led a pretty sad life,” Lewis said. “Many of the people in his life died of consumption — including his wife, his parents and some of his good friends. He was living in this gloom, and you can see it in his works.”
To that end, Lewis said the music in “The House of Edgar Allan Poe” is “definitely more somber.” There are a few more upbeat scenes — like Poe’s engagement and marriage — so it’s not all downbeat. Still there is a somber or morose feeling in the musical, as well as a good helping of angst.
“It definitely is an intense production,” he said. “I think it’s nicely balanced, but it also matches that kind of intensity and mystery and surprise and macabre that you find in Poe’s work.”
Lewis said the playwright will be in attendance at the opening. The cast and crew is excited to be the first group to put on this musical.
“It’s been an exciting experience for the students to get to decide what this musical looks like and create our own version,” he said.
Lewis is also fairly confident that people will leave the theater saying, “Wow, I want to know more about Edgar Allan Poe.”