Herald Times: Collaborators Offer Taste Of 'Ghost Brothers' At The IU Auditorium

By Marcela Creps - The Herald Times

“Don’t get too close to old people.”

That was the advice John Mellencamp had for television cameramen setting up for interviews as the premiere of “Ghost Brothers of Darkland County” hangs on the horizon.

Mellencamp with author Stephen King granted interviews to television reporters in the Indiana University Auditorium Tuesday afternoon. Members of the media were treated to a few scenes and songs from the musical that was a collaboration of the famed author and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer.

Mellencamp said that he didn’t know how things would go when he reached out to King. Mellencamp admitted he has never been able to collaborate with anyone.

King said he also didn’t know what to expect when Mellencamp came to visit with his proposal for a musical. King said Mellencamp came into his home and tuned King’s guitar as he pitched the story.

But the two seemed at ease with each other Tuesday, with King adopting Mellencamp’s description that the two were “brothers from another mother.”

The idea was generated from Mellencamp’s purchase of a summer cabin — a place he wanted to use as a weekend retreat with his sons. But staying in the cabin created uneasy feelings for Mellencamp. And strange things began happening. Window blinds would suddenly be open, and in the morning, things in the cabin would be rearranged.

Mellencamp said he spoke to the former owners, who told them a murder had taken place in the cabin. He was also shown old magazine articles that detailed the story of two brothers and their feud.

“I wasn’t big on staying there, so I sold the joint,” Mellencamp said.

But what Mellencamp got in return for the selling price was an idea for a story that hits the stage Thursday.

The musical was first staged in Atlanta, Ga., but since then, things have changed.

“When we produced it originally, it was a full-scale musical theater production,” said Susan Booth, director.

But those involved realized they were trying to shoehorn the production into a format that didn’t fit, Booth said.

“Partly it’s about editing it into the right performance,” she said.

Booth said the production was reworked so that the scenes played to their storytelling capacity, which means King spent time over the summer rewriting the dialogue.

“It worked in both iterations, but works best in the one it’s in right now,” she said.

Andy York, band leader, guitarist and musical supervisor, said the show has been retooled as a radio show. The nod to radio is evident in the production, with a large microphone similar to those seen in radio theater at center stage.

York said the musical is unlike others, as the songs don’t reflect the story as much as move you deeper into each character’s story.

“This is sort of a unique theater experience,” he said.

Along with King and Mellencamp, famed producer T Bone Burnett was brought in to help with the score. York said Burnett was instrumental in bringing together the “rustic, Southern, back porch vibe” of the music.

“He really created the sound of Darkland County. He gave us the swamp,” York said.

As the cast goes through rehearsals this week, little changes are still being made.

“They never stop and say they’re done,” Booth said of King and Mellencamp. “Steve was adding lines this afternoon.”

Actor Bruce Greenwood was selected to play Joe McCandless, who is dealing with feuding sons and a wife with addiction problems. His character is also dealing with the memories of his brothers who died in 1967 in a feud over a girl.

Greenwood admits he hasn’t sung professionally for quite a while and said he had “blown” his voice after Monday’s rehearsals. Continuing to nurse his voice back to health, Greenwood shined when he sang for the media.

“I’m not used to protecting my voice,” he said.

Greenwood said he was asked to perform the role of Joe, but his initial response was to send recordings of his singing to Mellencamp first. He figured he’d let Mellencamp at least hear his voice before being cast. The show, which Greenwood describes as “Prairie Home Companion on mushrooms,” has given the actor an opportunity to invent the way the songs are sung and the way the lines are performed.

Those familiar with Greenwood’s work probably haven’t seen him sing. He admitted to being in a cover band years ago where one of the songs he performed was “Hurts So Good,” one of Mellencamp’s many hits.

Actress Emily Skinner said her role is a little dark. She plays a depressed, alcoholic mother. When she performed the musical in Atlanta, Skinner said she was ready for some light comedies. But she thinks the audience will be impressed with Mellencamp’s music.

“I think people are going to be really surprised how broad his musical palette is,” she said.