Now through January 14, the songs of The Avett Brothers come to life in the musical “Swept Away” at Arena Stage.
The Avett Brothers is considered a legendary folk band, and hailed by critics and fans alike for their incredible roots music and powerful lyrics. One of the band’s classic albums—2004’s “Mignonette”—was inspired by an 1884 shipwreck and the struggle of four men to survive.
That album was the catalyst for “Swept Away,” a new musical now playing at Arena Stage, featuring the tunes of The Avett Brothers and directed by Tony Award-winner Michael Mayer. The show runs through January 14.
The story, written by John Logan, follows four men on a whaling ship off the coast of New Bedford, Mass., who face the question of how far they will go to stay alive when a violent storm hits.
Arena Stage has brought together some heavy hitters in its cast, led by Tony Award winner John Gallagher, Jr., Tony Award nominee Stark Sands, “Dickinson” star Adrian Blake Enscoe and long-time character actor Wayne Duvall.
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The musical had its world premiere at the Berkeley Repertory in early 2022, with all four of the stars involved in that production as well.
“I joke that I get cast only in pieces that take place in the 1800s,” Enscoe says, referring to his starring role as Austin in Apple TV+’s “Dickinson.” “I just have an old-school vibe I guess.”
But it was the folk music aspect that really appealed to the actor. A longtime fan of the Avett Brothers, and a member of his own folk band, Bandits on the Run, Enscoe was drawn to “Swept Away” by the tremendous music.
“I also was inspired by everyone on the team,” he says. “Getting a chance to work with John and Michael, both from ‘Spring Awakening’ which I saw in high school, I consider that a seminal moment for me in my life, deciding to do theater as a career. So it’s a dream job on multiple levels.”
As someone who has been a part of numerous indie musicals during his career, Enscoe knows that some shows don’t always have that “it” factor to make it a success. That’s definitely not the case with “Swept Away.”
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“This one really understands the medium of folk music and authentically represents it on stage, and it’s thrilling to be a part of,” he says. “John Logan took the entire catalogue of the Avett Brothers and found these four characters.”
Enscoe plays the little brother of two siblings who sneak aboard the ship looking for adventure, and their sense of morality is tested when they are lost at sea.
“All bets are off, you play by different rules,” he says. “A lot of the songs by the Avett Brothers play on this theme of ‘What does it mean to be a human?’ ‘What are my responsibilities for my soul?’ and those are the questions these four principal characters are faced with.”
During rehearsals, the cast got to meet Scott and Seth Avett, and Enscoe has been trying to incorporate parts of Seth’s personality into his character to create fun Easter eggs for fans.
And while one may not immediately think “Broadway” when they hear the music of the Avett Brothers, Enscoe believes that’s precisely what makes this show so needed.
“There shouldn’t be a rule of what sounds like Broadway, it should be an incredible venue and platform for a bunch of different voices,” he says. “The fact that they have this far-reaching fan base and people know these songs all around the world, it’s really meaningful to so many.”
“Swept Away” runs at Arena Stage now through January 14. View showtimes and purchase tickets here.
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