Review Roundup: SWEPT AWAY Opens at Arena Stage

Arena Stage will present a two-week extension of Swept Away through January 14, 2024. 

By: Dec. 08, 2023
Review Roundup: SWEPT AWAY Opens at Arena Stage
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The new musical Swept Away, with music by The Avett Brothers, is now playing at Arena Stage’s Kreeger Theater at the Mead Center for American Theater for the duration. Arena Stage will present a two-week extension of Swept Away through January 14, 2024. 

Set in 1888, Swept Away follows four survivors—a young man in search of adventure (Enscoe), his big brother who has sworn to protect him (Sands), a captain at the end of a long career at sea (Duvall), and a worldly first mate who has fallen from grace (Gallagher)—after a violent storm sinks their whaling ship off the coast of New Bedford, Massachusetts. How far will they go to stay alive? And can they live with the consequences? Described as “reverberating all the way into your core” (San Francisco Chronicle), this electrifying, soul-stirring musical explores how facing tragedy can open the door to forgiveness, if only we’ll let it.

Joining Duvall, Enscoe, Gallagher, and Sands onstage is a talented ensemble comprised of Hunter Brown (The Sound of Music National Tour), Matt DeAngelis(Broadway’s Waitress), Taurean Everett (Broadway’s Moulin Rouge! The Musical), Cameron Johnson (Broadway’s Into the Woods), Brandon Kalm (Broadway’sWaitress), Michael Mainwaring (Arena’s Smokey Joe's Café), Orville Mendoza (Broadway’s Peter and the Starcatcher), Tyrone L. Robinson (Broadway’s Frozen), John Sygar (Kennedy Center’s Look Both Ways), and Jamari Johnson Williams (Broadway’s Ain’t Too Proud).

In addition to Mayer, the Swept Away creative team includes Tony Award-nominated Choreographer David Neumann, Music Arranger & Orchestrator Chris Miller, Music Arranger & Orchestrator / Music Supervisor Brian Usifer, Music Director Will Van Dyke, Tony Award-winning Set Designer Rachel Hauck, Tony Award-winning Costume Designer Susan Hilferty, four-time Tony Award-winning Lighting Designer Kevin Adams, Tony Award-winning Sound Designer John Shivers, New York Casting Director Jim Carnahan, Jillian Cimini, and Alexandre Bleau, CSA, DC Casting Director Joseph Pinzon, Stage Manager Matthew Leiner, and Assistant Stage Managers Alice M. Pollitt, Marne Anderson, and Jalon Payton.

See what the critics are saying...

Jake Bridges, BroadwayWorld: With elite talent across the board, a truly stunning score, and a masterful set, SWEPT AWAY has tremendous potential as a production with an eye for Broadway. John Logan’s script draws too frequently from conventions of past shipwreck stories, and the audience’s connection to the characters suffer as a result. Still, the musical may have enough strong elements to cover up the shortfalls. 

Thomas Floyd, The Washington Post: Still, the cast plays the subsequent moral dilemma so sublimely that “Swept Away” finds its bearings all the same. As questions of faith, human nature and self-forgiveness fuel the pressure cooker of a conclusion, Gallagher rises to the occasion by sinking Mate into despondence. In embracing its darker instincts, the show aligns with such boundary-pushing musicals as “Next to Normal” and “Dear Evan Hansen,” which also ran at Arena Stage before venturing north. A repeat of that outcome, it must be said, appears far from assured. But wherever the winds of show business may blow, “Swept Away” has proved itself worthy of a Broadway christening.

Charlotte Selton, MD Theatre Guide: The Avett Brothers score features top hits in new contexts, including “Ain’t No Man,” “Murder in the City,” and “No Hard Feelings,” alongside many songs off their 2004 album, “Mignonette.” Occasionally, the songs’ transitions are awkward. The oddly upbeat “Go to Sleep” is obliquely fit to the initial deathbed haunting, and the first line of “Murder in the City” comes a bit out of the blue. Other songs, like the rock-tinged “Satan Pulls the Strings,” sung with suitable malevolence by Gallagher, and the title track “Swept Away,” imbued with youthful optimism by Enscoe, slide in seamlessly. Big Brother’s relentless piety and proselytizing is saved by Sands’ clear, crisp vocals from growing tiresome. 

André Hereford, Metro Weekly: The meat of the 90-minute production then happens on the lifeboat where the four survivors — Big Brother, Little Brother, Captain, and Mate — must make harrowing decisions in order to survive. Mayer and his cast, including Duvall, whose Captain offers little character beyond looking like a 19th-century sea captain, masterfully play the tension of a horrifying situation that happens to be based on a real event. We can see the end coming, and know only one man lives to tell the tale, but the production still delivers a shocking climax, the gut-wrenching conclusion to a hair-raising voyage.

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