The 765 people who attended the sold out world premiere of Ghost Brothers of Darkland County had plenty to be excited about Wednesday evening in Atlanta, GA.
John Mellencamp, Stephen King and T Bone Burnett walked the red carpet for an event they have spent nearly a decade creating.
The eerie ghost feeling consumes the senses the moment you enter the theater as the ensemble is vaporously sitting on park benches and on top the water tower high above the stage.
The wicked Shape, portraying a devil-like ghost, opens the production singing of Heaven and Hell and is continuously circling the stage inserting evil and malice into the characters as they learn of the unfortunate events that occurred at the cabin forty years earlier.
Joe McCandless, played by the Tony-award-winning Shuler Hensley, recounts his early memories and the truth surrounding the untimely death of his two older brothers and the woman who loved them both. Hensley’s voice only added to the splendor of the set and lighting designed by Tony Award winner Todd Rosenthal and Robert Wierzel, respectively.
With the truth buried for decades, Joe is pushed to finally tell the real story to his quarrelling sons by the ghost of his friend, Dan (Christopher Morgan). Morgan’s performance, especially in the number “Tear This Cabin Down,” is the most spectacular tenor and is worth the price of the ticket alone.
Talent was far from lacking in any department; in fact, this could be the most talented cast to grace the stage at the Alliance Theatre in a long time. Kate Farber as Jenna and Kylie Brown in the role of Anna each delivered a flawless performance, both crisp sopranos with a voice that carried far beyond the walls of the hall. Emily Skinner, Joe’s wife Monique, needed another solo with a clearer message and purpose than her dynamic, yet misunderstood “On Belle Reve Time.”
Justin Guarini filled the stage with his acting and vocal talents in the role of Drake McCandless alongside Lucas Kavner as Frank McCandless, the two sons of Joe. The production also included the young, but talented Royce Mann, a ten-year-old boy who plays the role of Young Joe and pushes the elder Joe to “tell the truth.” Mann’s character adds a young child’s perspective to the tragedy and his delivery is a perfect pinch to the senses.
While the story takes a bit too long to develop, the music takes your mind off that. Mellencamp created a soundtrack of music that should be recorded and released as soon as possible; just please use the original cast. He uses a four-piece band to create a mix of his signature classic rock (reminding you that he was the guy behind “Little Pink Houses”) and a touch of something it seems he has been wanting to experiment with for a long time, to create the style of music you cannot help but like.
This musical challenges the traditional rules of Broadway, and in doing so will probably never run in New York; but it is good.
“Once in a while you get to be there when a familiar form gets a blast of new life, and the rules all get changed. Atlanta and the Alliance Theatre are getting just that moment, compliments of Stephen King, John Mellencamp and T Bone Burnett, creating a ghost story/rock concert mashup called Ghost Brothers of Darkland County,” said Susan Booth, Jennings Hertz Artistic Director, Alliance Theatre.
“We have the opportunity to put a major new American musical into the canon. That’s about as cool as it gets, if you ask me,” said Booth.
That really is what this was all about. A rock star and a literally legend got together and wanted to try a new challenge. And they did it well!