“GhostBrothers of Darkland County,” the collaborative horror musical by the Master of Horror Stephen King and Grammy Award winner John Mellencamp (with musical direction from T-Bone Burnett), is an interactive masterpiece. The story revolves around Joe McCandless’ family, both past and present.
McCandless’ sons squabble about various issues – the affection of a girl, the pursuit to be Momma’s favorite, and bragging rights, just to name a few. When McCandless, played by Bruce Greenwood (Star Trek Into Darkness), sees the same pattern in his sons that he did with his two older brothers 40 years earlier, he decides to come clean about the family secret that has haunted him for decades.
McCandless’ brothers also fought over a girl and vied to be the “best” brother. A night of partying ends in a murder/suicide involving both brothers and the “girl” they are fighting over. But, is this really how it happened?
“Ghost Brothers of Darkland County” is set in both 1967 and 2007, weaving back and forth beautifully between eras to push the family secret forward. What’s unique about the musical is there are no set changes; rather the entire story takes place in purgatory and the family’s haunted cabin. One set, one story, multiple twists.
The cast, comprised of veteran actors from both film and stage including Emily Skinner, Kylie Brown and Jesse Lenat, delivers a medley of music and flashbacks that keep the audience engaged via the story’s suspenseful and climatic ending. They are assisted musically by four members of Mellencamp’s actual band.
There are only a few shows left so I don’t want to give away the ending, especially if it has a chance to run longer (the shows are mostly in the Midwest). Let’s just say that King is the Master of Horror for a reason so expect the unexpected.
“Ghost Brothers of Darkland County” overall is well done and worth seeing. There are some spots in the story that I thought could have been fleshed out better – some of the story was told too much in song, which resulted in less than stellar tunes and took away from the suspense of the dramatic dialogue.
The production also could have been longer to develop the characters more but the musical ran for over two hours with one intermission so I understand the edits. The actors though did a wonderful job with both the script and the music, with each delivering powerful performances in character. The highlight of the show was the ending of the first act, with actor Eric Moore, who plays Dan Coker, stealing the musical with his vibrant and energetic voice. Well, highlight aside from the ending which reveals the entire story in one line – NO SPOILER HERE.
I really can’t disclose any more without revealing some plot points that giveaway the finale so I will just say this: “Ghost Brothers of Darkland County” is a unique experience that combines two genres into one – horror and musicals. If you’ve ever liked ghost stories this is one production you would thoroughly enjoy, despite the minor flaws.