New Musical 'Swept Away' to Feature Avett Brothers Score

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The Avett Brothers

The roots-rock band will provide music and lyrics, working with writer John Logan and director Michael Mayer on the story of a whaling ship sunk by a violent storm off the coast of Massachusetts in 1888.

Grammy-nominated North Carolina indie roots-rock/folk band The Avett Brothers are the latest recording artists to step into the musical-theater domain, with Swept Away

The group will provide music and lyrics for the new musical, which features a book by John Logan and direction by Michael Mayer, who won Tony Awards for Red and Spring Awakening, respectively. The show will have its world premiere at Berkeley Repertory Theatre in June 2020.

Mayer is an experienced hand at shaping shows from the work of popular music artists, having directed the Green Day musical American Idiot and, more recently, Head Over Heels, which wove a Renaissance-style comedy of sexual identity out of hits by The Go-Go's. He also directed the Tony-winning revival of John Cameron Mitchell's punk odyssey Hedwig and the Angry Inch.

Logan, whose screenwriting credits include Gladiator, The Aviator and Hugo, wrote the book for the upcoming Moulin Rouge! musical, which is set to open this summer on Broadway, combining popular song selections lifted from the Baz Luhrmann movie and elsewhere across the decades.

Set in 1888, Swept Away traces the individual life-or-death reckonings faced by the survivors of disaster when a whaling ship is sunk during a violent storm off the coast of New Bedford, Massachusetts — a captain near the end of his long seafaring career, a first mate who has fallen from grace, a young adventurer and his protective older brother. 

The musical was partly inspired by the 2004 Avett Brothers album Mignonette, named after an English yacht that sank off the Cape of Good Hope in the late 19th century, resulting in a trial for cannibalism. Other songs from the band's extensive body of work also were influential in the creative process.

"This new and original story built with our songs has revealed meanings and connections which Scott and I never could have imagined otherwise," Seth Avett said Wednesday in a statement. "Beyond the unique joy and somewhat surreal experience of watching the project develop, it has been an honor to work with everyone involved."

"It's been a total pleasure working with The Avett Brothers and living inside their music," echoed Logan. "I am constantly inspired by the sheer variety of their work and its utter truth and soulfulness." 

"Bringing The Avett Brothers' gorgeous songs to life in the context of John Logan's gut-punch of a ghost story is both a privilege and a gift," added Mayer.

While no plans have been announced for the project after its premiere engagement, Berkeley Rep has served as a launchpad for a number of Broadway musicals, including American Idiot, Passing Strange and the current season's Temptations bio-musical, Ain't Too Proud