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Author Topic: "Ghost Bros." Toronto Star Article - Nov. 7/14  (Read 3935 times)
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« on: November 07, 2014, 06:29:46 pm »

Stephen King haunts musical theatre with Ghost Brothers of Darkland County

“You can do things with music you just can’t do with words,” says the horror master of what drew him to co-create The Ghost Brothers of Darkland County, playing Massey Hall on Nov. 11

 By: Ben Rayner Pop Music Critic, Published on Fri Nov 07 2014

It figures that Stephen King — a populist conjurer, chronicler and curator of America’s most demonic imaginings for 40 years now — would harbour at least one disturbing secret of his own.

Brace yourself, then, because here it is: dude loves musicals. Loves them. While he was sitting at his typewriter, dutifully pecking out the shape of your nightmares to come in the form of such indelible horror classics as The Shining , The Stand , Pet Sematary , It and Misery back in the day, in fact, there’s a very good chance he might have been humming “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly,” “What’s the Use of Wond’rin?” or even “I Feel Pretty” to himself.

So when King stresses that he and collaborators John Mellencamp and T Bone Burnett took great pains throughout the horrifically long creative slog that yielded their new(-ish) theatre production , Ghost Brothers of Darkland County , to avoid “the whole Broadway-musical thing, with the huge ensemble orchestra and all that,” know that he’s making that statement from an affectionate place.

“It’s not the sort of music you would hear, for instance, in My Fair Lady ,” says King of the Ghost Brothers score, moving swiftly to calm an interviewer who’s actually rather fond of My Fair Lady . “I like ’em all, don’t get me wrong! My Fair Lady , West Side Story , Carousel , Oklahoma! — ‘Where the wind comes sweepin’ down the plain’ — I like ’em all. I love musicals.

“But I wanted — and I talked with John about this — to keep it sort of American music, and I mentioned this show Big River to him, which the late, great Roger Miller wrote. Just keep it kind of a mixture of country, blues and rock ’n’ roll. And John was down with that.”

With actress Gina Gershon and Billy Burke of Twilight infamy in the lead roles and a four-piece band hacking out the tunes, The Ghost Brothers of Darkland County makes its Canadian debut at Massey Hall on Tuesday on a month-long North American tour that launches just three days earlier in Orono, Me.

It’s only the second time the play — a blood-spattered musical spine-tingler set in a haunted cabin on Lake Belle Reve in Mississippi in 1967 and sporting a period-appropriate Americana soundtrack by Mellencamp — has been mounted in any serious form. A short theatrical tour followed Ghost Brothers ’ debut at Atlanta’s Alliance Theatre in 2012, while the music — available on an all-star CD/DVD package featuring the likes of Elvis Costello, Roseanne Cash, Sheryl Crow, Kris Kristofferson and Neko Case — made the rounds as a traveling concert production last year.

But King is particularly high on the leaner, meaner current version, which he likens to “an old-fashioned radio play. It’s sorta stripped down, and I like that because it means that anybody, anywhere could do it.”

King admits he was still tinkering with the script as recently as three weeks ago, but that seems par for the course for The Ghost Brothers of Darkland County . He and Mellencamp have been labouring over the thing for something like 15 years.

Indeed, King recalls, he was still on crutches after the “encounter with a van” that nearly killed him in June of 1999 when his singer/songwriter friend first pitched him the idea of doing a musical together.

“I’ll tell you how long ago this was, Ben,” he laughs. “There was dial-up at this time.”

A good yarn is a good yarn, though, and Mellencamp had stumbled across a particularly good one after purchasing a lakeside vacation cabin in Indiana that, unbeknownst to him, also came with three ghosts.

“The sale went through, but after the sale was done the guy said to him: ‘You know this cabin is haunted,’” says King. “He waited until he had the cheque before he said that. But John is not a guy who gets scared very easily, so he was interested in it and he wanted to know what the story was.”

According to local lore, two brothers had paid a visit to the cabin years before in the company of a young woman they were trying to impress. A combination of booze and boyish bravado inspired them to try their hand at a little William Tell action, and one of the brothers foolishly attempted to shoot an apple off the other’s head with a rifle. Needless to say, the stunt ended in a gunshot wound to the head.

“The boy who’d done the shooting and the girl freaked out, as anybody would, and they threw this kid in the car to get him to the hospital,” says King. “They were driving really fast on a gravel road and they hit a tree not far from the cabin, and they were killed. So all three of them died and supposedly all three of their ghosts haunted the cabin.”

With that sad (but spooky) tale as inspiration, King and Mellencamp began sending story notes and song demos back and forth, getting more and more “fired up” about the project as it slowly came into focus.

Emphasis on slowly, mind you. Both Mellencamp and King — who, at 67, is about to release his second novel of the year , Revival , on Tuesday — tend to have a lot on their plates, so the play didn’t get the final push it needed for completion until T Bone Burnett entered the picture around 2010.

Roots-rock producer extraordinaire Burnett had produced Mellencamp’s last couple of records, including 2010’s No Better Than This , which was partially recorded at Nashville’s famed Sun Studios and contained a lot of music “that was like the Ghost Brothers music, this kind of acoustic rock ’n’ roll with a country tinge to it.”

Mellencamp had an epiphany and asked King: “What would you think if we brought T Bone on board?” King, a fan of Burnett’s soundtrack work on Wild At Heart and O Brother, Where Art Thou? was enthusiastic.

“That was just perfect. That was just in the sweet spot,” says King. “So T Bone came on board. He’s real laid-back and I am, too, and John’s intense so we all fit together pretty well, and we ended up with a pretty extraordinary product. I hope people like it.

“It was kind of an exciting idea to get involved with something I’d never done before . . . You’re stuck with the limitations that the stage imposes, but I’ve found with my work — particularly with TV — that that’s a good thing because it forces you to be even more disciplined in what you do.”

Why a musical, then?

“It just adds a whole other dimension,” enthuses King, who has dabbled in rock ’n’ roll himself over the years as a member of the writerly pick-up band the Rock Bottom Remainders .

“You can do things with music you just can’t do with words. You might be able to get that emotional gradient in a book a little bit, but music is so emotional and has such a capacity to lift people up.”

Don’t think King’s gone soft on us, though. Just because The Ghost Brothers of Darkland County is a musical doesn’t mean it’s light on scares. Or gore, for that matter. According to a recent American Theatre piece on the play, “the crew includes a special-effects technician, Steve Tolin, who specializes in people getting shot in the head.”

King swears horror fans won’t be disappointed.

“Oh, yeah,” he chuckles. “There’s a lot of blood.”

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