Stephen King’s libretto coming to Thomas Wolfe

Jazz Hands of Horror: Author Stephen King’s first libretto, Ghost Brothers of Darkland County, will be performed at the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium on Sunday, Oct.13.
Jazz Hands of Horror: Author Stephen King’s first libretto, Ghost Brothers of Darkland County, will be performed at the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium on Sunday, Oct.13.

With more than 50 published novels and hundreds of short stories to his name, author Stephen King is obviously prolific. He’s also proven to be quite versatile, taking the jump into musical theater with Ghost Brothers of Darkland County, playing at the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium on Sunday, Oct. 13.

While the idea of a libretto from the author of Pet Sematary and Carrie is a curious possibility, don’t think he’s going it alone. The production features music by John Mellencamp and music direction by T Bone Burnett.

It should come as no surprise that the end result of this unusual mix of talents is something far from what most come to expect from musicals. There are no showtunes. The show has already yielded an album of recordings featuring Elvis Costello, Sheryl Crow and Neko Case. Instead, Ghost Brothers “is absolutely its own animal,” explains director Susan V. Booth. “It's not a Broadway musical. It's not a rock concert. We like to call it a mash-up of a ghost story, a live radio play and an old-time traveling medicine show. Think of it as a musicalized amusement park ride.”

Booth says that the work’s disparate creators drew her to Ghost Brothers. She directed the original production of the musical at Atlanta’s Alliance Theatre in 2012.

“The combination of these three — particularly on a ghost story — was just too good to pass up.  What's cool, though, is how perfectly each of their signature styles shines through on the finished work.” She adds, “I grew up listening to John's music and reading Steve's books. John's music always felt like the gritty side of Americana — these perfect and perfectly sad little stories that wormed their way into your brain on the back of great tunes. And Steve creates a whole cosmic world for you, and then tells you his story. He essentially disarms you of all your preconceived notions of how the world works.”

Ghost Brothers’  creation has been a decade in the making. Mellencamp conceived the skeletal structure of the plot and King added the meat, or, more aptly, the guts.

The story itself revolves around the deaths of the McCandless brothers in Mississippi in 1967, and the family patriarch, Joe, attempting to redeem his family decades later. Booth, who’s a fan of Southern writers like Tennessee Williams, Carson McCullers and Harper Lee, points out that Ghost Brothers very much fits within the Southern gothic tradition.

“This is killer music and gothic writing in service of telling an audience the kind of stories we all grew up hearing around campfires and on sleepovers — the kind of stories our big brothers told us in order to scare the snot out of us,” says Booth. “And I love that this production relies completely on actors and music to do that.”

As far as the cast goes, Ghost Brothers is led by Bruce Greenwood as Joe McCandless, and Emily Skinner as Joe’s wife, Monique. Skinner is a veteran of Broadway productions such as Jekyll & Hyde, Billy Elliot and The Full Monty. Greenwood, who’s best known for playing Captain Christopher Pike in J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek reboots, is surprisingly versatile according to Booth. “[He’s] obscenely talented,” she points out. “Yes, [a] fantastic actor with this great body of film and television work. But then he turns out to be this smoky, bluesy, killer musician as well. Seriously. It's unfair.”

what: Ghost Brothers of Darkland County
where: Thomas Wolfe Auditorium
when: Sunday, Oct. 13. $47-$77. http://ticketmaster.com

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