Kurt Cobain is alive and hiding in plain sight, as Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo. Jim Morrison never really met “The End” and is still panhandling poetry somewhere along the cobblestone streets of Denmark. Despite all the fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches, Elvis has never actually left the building — he’s working as the groundskeeper at Graceland.
Even long before the “Forever 27 Club” handle was officially dubbed, fans of artists taken too soon have attempted to cope with the death of their favorite pop-culture personas with heavy doses of denial.
There’s been the conspiracies. The sightings. And, in some cases, even the selfies.
Now, there’s the musical comedy “Under”— wherein playwright David Warick and composer Eric Tsavdar aim to bring to life some out-there theories of their own by bringing iconic legends — including James Dean, Marilyn Monroe and even “The King” himself — back from the dead, when the original production makes its debut at the Dickens Parlour Theatre in Millville on Sunday, June 11.
“There’s celebrities from every era, from the ’50s on, so it really hits a wide demographic,” said Warrick, who inked the storyline and who will also co-star as one of the play’s protagonists, Harry Allenby. “There’s a lot of funny stuff — it’s meant to be a musical comedy but not to make fun of any of these celebrities or their struggles.”
“The whole genesis of the show is look at these celebrities on the verge of self-destruction that get a way to escape the problems of their lives,” Tsavdar explained.
The narrative revolves around a subterranean utopia that shares its name with the play, designed and operated by Warick’s affluent fat-cat character and meant to serve as a refuge for some of history’s most infamous flights too close to the sun and candles burnt at both ends.
Finding Under means both finding the fountain of youth and voluntarily ditching the limelight, in a place where Underlings never get old and never die — so long as they stick to a few key house rules.
Of course, even in paradise there’s trouble, which is starting to brew when Hal Allenby (Alonso Dixon) stumbles upon his grandfather’s top-secret city to discover that not all of its celebrity citizens have left behind the problems of their past.
That’s the case mainly when it comes to Lord Lucan — the play’s villain, portrayed by Tim Hale and based on the non-fictional Englishman who disappeared after being accused of murdering his wife and nanny. Lucan’s still-menacing ways put a surprise squeeze on reformed rockers and direct descendants of the Allenby clan alike, while they band together to try to save Under as they know it from ending up over.
There’s plenty of laughs along the way, a love story when Hal also stumbles upon his dream girl (a doe-eyed waitress named Anna, played by Kathleen Carter) just before unwittingly departing from the real world, and original musical numbers from Tsavdar to set the scene.
While Sunday will be the production’s first appearance at Dickens, it originally premiered at Sussex Central High School in 2016, in what was the show’s first appearance on stage.
Since then, Warick and Tsavdar have streamlined both the script and the set list, going on to bring in a brand-new cast of local theater vets ready to give the show a second life with three performances in Millville.
“We did do some workshopping — it’s just part of the process to check out what worked and what you might maybe like to see go differently,” Tsavdar explained. “I’m really honored that Dickens expressed an interest in the show — it really is a little gem here in the Ocean View area.”
“I think that the intimacy of the theater will be really fun for the audience,” added Warick. “They’ll be able to pick up on the little nuances of the performance, and the actors will, hopefully, be able to form a little bit of a relationship with them throughout the show.”
Some of the names headlining what’s become “Under: The New Cast” include Phoebe Walls as “Queen of Rock” Janis Joplin, Jordan Marvel as the iconically-cool and cause-less rebel James Dean, Taylor Reeves as timeless sex-symbol and popularizer of the New York City steam grate Marilyn Monroe, Anthony Natoli set to experience “The Experience” while portraying “Voodoo-Child” virtuoso Jimi Hendrix, and Michael Wingate as flannel-clad poet and infamous Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain, just to name a few.
Where the production will eventually lead after its resurrection at Dickens is a mystery on par with the current whereabouts of the cultural icons it portrays, but whether the next curtain ends up being called at another one of the area’s local theaters, a nearby city, or makes it all the way to the big-time on Broadway, both Warick and Tsavdar plan on keeping both the “Forever 27 Club,” and the show, forever alive and forever young.
“We’d definitely like to try it out at some venues in other cities, too,” Warick said of the show’s future.
“Dickens is doing us a big favor by giving us a chance to be able to really see it and hear it — they really are fantastic partners. They want this to be a success just as much as we do.”
“This is exactly the kind of thing that I love doing, and I’d love to be able to do more of this kind of stuff,” added Tsavdar, who had previously teamed up with Warick on their “Little Shop of Horrors”-inspired musical-comedy “Dr. Ghost.”
“For me,” Tsavdar said, “seeing it finally brought to life and then seeing people enjoy it — nothing beats that. There really isn’t anything better.”
Tickets for “Under” are priced at $15 for adults or $10 for students. Showtime is set for 7 p.m. on Sunday, June 11, Monday, June 12, and Tuesday, June 13. The Dickens Parlour Theatre is located at 35715 Atlantic Avenue in Millville. For more information, or to purchase tickets, visit www.dptmagic.com or call Dickens at (302) 829-1071.