Even those who aren’t familiar with the 18th-century poet Alexander Pope have likely heard his famous quote, “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.” The University of Southern Maine’s Department of Theatre and School of Music are tackling the satirist with gleeful abandon for their latest collaboration, but it’s not a fool’s errand. The New England premiere of “Unlock’d” is sublime absurdity.

Based on Pope’s heroic poem “The Rape of the Lock,” the musical tells the satirical tale of a beautiful maiden named Belinda Fermor (Meg Ward) and her melodic “Ringlettes.” That’s right, her coveted curls sing, and each has its own name and personality. The adorable Beatrice, played by Noli French, is Belinda’s favorite.

A dashing baron named Roderick Shearing (Sam Allen), his bookworm brother Edwin (Ben Walker-Dubay) and three foppish gentlemen of the court (Ezri Donnangelo, Aaron Kircheis and Abram Dwyer) vie for Belinda’s attention, and a lock of hair. All the while, Belinda’s sister, Clarissa Evers (Abby White), and the maidens of the court (Mikayla Clifford, Caitlin McGonigle and Meg Walz) languish in obscurity, eclipsed by Belinda’s blinding beauty. Three meddling sylph air spirits (Megan Mayfield, Victoria Stackpole and Ayanna Main) and their mischievous earthen gnome counterparts (Matty Boyd, Andrew Carney and Nash Tasker) add to the tongue-in-cheek merriment. Even the almighty Zeus (Boyd) makes a spectacular appearance in this far too much fun spoof.

“Unlock’d” is a creative endeavor from the New York-based American musical theater songwriting duo Carner and Gregor. Sam Carner, a Maine native, wrote the book and lyrics. He seamlessly incorporates rhyme with lively prose, simultaneously paying tribute to the bards of yesteryears and mocking the societal trivialities of their time that still pervade our society today.

Composer Derek Gregor envelops the words in a world of music that ranges in style from classical to contemporary, even slipping in a little tango. It’s a perfect pairing for the “modernish musical romance,” delivering a gorgeous score that revels in the ridiculous.

The production is sharp-witted and fun, right down to the double-edged character names that range from the ludicrous Lord Littlewit (Donnangelo) to the subtle Fermor, which when pronounced sounds like a clever combination of pheromone and paramour. Of course, in between, there’s the ever-charming Shearing brothers and Belinda’s sister, Miss Evers.

Director Sara Valentine and musical director Edward Reichert head up a talented cast of 18 actors and six musicians that capture the splendor and playful spirit of the musical. The primary cast shine brightly in their sublimely absurd roles. Allen is devilishly charming and animated as Roderick, offering captivating tenor vocals on songs such as his solo, “Baron’s Realization”/”All at Once.”

Ward is equally enthralling as the vapid but beautiful Belinda. Her performance is radiant, with operatic vocals on the silly “Hair Song” and the lovely duet with White, “Duettino II.”

Walker-Dubay is expressive as Roderick’s brother Edwin and White sparkles like one of Belinda’s hair combs as her sister Clarissa, delivering couplets with fluent ease. The two are superbly paired on the whimsical “Off to the East.”

The sylphs are nicely showcased on “While He’s Away,” and the gnomes are pure fun. Andrew Carney particularly stands out as Barney on the diverting “Only a Gnome” and Boyd, who primarily plays a gnome named Umbriel, gives a jaw-dropping performance as Zeus on the wonderfully over-the-top “Zeus’s Song.”

The performances are topped off with a sparse, yet ingenious set, and fabulous costumes that are a combination of eye-catching cotton candy and brightly colored masterpieces.

“Unlock’d” is a beguiling as Belinda and as cutting as the Shearing brother’s scissors. USM’s theater and music departments embrace the humor and exquisiteness of Carner and Gregor’s new musical, offering up a rendition that eclipses triviality.

April Boyle is a freelance writer from Casco. She can be contacted at:

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