Poe tales inspire musical

Robert Dennick Joki has written plenty of spoofs for his Rust Belt Theater Company, but he’s serious when it comes to his new Edgar Allen Poe musical … dead serious.

“Nevermore!” which Joki wrote with Josh Taylor, opens Friday for a three-weekend run at the Calvin Center.

Joki said he’s been a fan of Poe’s work since high school, and he and Taylor first talked about writing a musical based on Poe’s work while collaborating on last year’s “Living Dead: The Musical.”

“It’s fun to do the parody stuff, but every once in awhile we like to experiment with something else and see how our audience takes it,” Joki said.

The performance centers around the inmates of an insane asylum and draws from more than 20 of Poe’s short stories and poems.

“People think of the word ‘Nevermore’ in ‘The Raven,’ but it’s in several of his poems as short stories as well as (the word) ‘evermore,'” Joki said. “It was a fun little challenge to see how many of his pieces I could entwine into the plot.”

For the show’s structure, Joki said he drew inspiration from musicals like “Cats” and “Godspell,” even if those shows seem to have little in common with the tone of Poe’s work.

Musically, Joki said the songs have a goth-rock quality and compared them to Evanescence.

“It has that rock edge,” he said. “A lot of the music is in minor keys, inverted chords. A lot of the music sounds dark.”

The meter and rhyme scheme in Poe’s writing made it easy to transform his words into lyrics. And with the exception of a couple of lines at the end of the musical, all of the dialogue and lyrics come from Poe’s work.

The cast features Nicole Zayas, Kage Coven, Geri Dewitt, Taylor Jordyn, Hunter Thomas, Nicholas Forgac, JoEllen Jacob, David Cirelli, Marisa Zamary, Beth Farrow, Rachel Clifford, Starr McClure, Celena Coven, Taylor and Joki. Zamary also is the choreographer.

“Nevermore!” may be more serious than many Rust Belt shows, but Joki said it isn’t stuffy and should be accessible to those who aren’t scholars of Poe’s work.

“It’s visually entertaining,” he said. “There’s a lot of dance, and the costumes are very stylistic. We’re incorporating more theatrical lighting than we have in anything else. And it’s not a dreadfully long production. I wanted to keep it under two hours … I didn’t want it to be, ‘Ugh, two hours of people being murdered’.”

If “Nevermore” is successful, it could be the first in a series of shows inspired by famous writers.

“I’ve already starting working on something with the writing of Lewis Carroll (‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’),” Joki said. “If this show goes well, we could do that next year.”