USA Today: 'Ghost Brothers' Made Kin of Mellencamp and King
By Elysa Gardner -
Watch the video interview with John and Stephen. HERE
John Mellencamp won't be performing in the new tour of Ghost Brothers of Darkland County, the musical he composed with Stephen King.
Neither, for that matter, will King — though he and Mellencamp did, in one of their early meetings, bond as musicians. "He tuned my guitar," King recalls. "He said, 'This thing's a (expletive) mess.' "
In a separate phone interview, Mellencamp confirms this: "It was way out of tune." He adds, with obvious affection, "Just like Steve's way out of tune."
It was more than a decade ago that the rock veteran approached the best-selling author with the concept for Ghost Brothers, a musical (or "a play with music," as Mellencamp prefers to call it) inspired by actual events in Mellencamp's home state of Indiana. In the show, which premiered last year at Atlanta's Alliance Theatre, two brothers and one young woman lose their lives to a toxic mix of lust and sibling rivalry.
Their spirits then haunt a cabin where a surviving kid brother eventually turns up as a middle-aged man, with two sons of his own, who also end up battling over a girl.
In the 19-city tour, which launches Thursday in Bloomington, Ind., and wraps Nov. 6 in Grand Rapids, Mich. (tickets), these characters are played by a company that includes some of the same troupers who appeared in the Alliance cast. Dressed in costume and accompanied by a band on stage, they'll perform the show — King's libretto and Mellencamp's music and lyrics — in full.
Film actor Bruce Greenwood (Thirteen Days, Star Trek Into Darkness) is a new addition as Joe, the now-older little brother — who "looks alarmingly like John (Mellencamp)" in performance, according to Ghost Brothers' musical director, veteran producer T Bone Burnett.
For Burnett, who also worked with Mellencamp and King on the Atlanta production — and an album of the songs recorded by Elvis Costello, Kris Kristofferson, Sheryl Crow and other artists, released last May — the concept of the two heartland icons teaming up made perfect sense.
"They both live out in the weeds," Burnett observes (King in Maine, Mellencamp in Indiana). "Maybe it's just my imagination, but I get the sense that these guys hole up and don't see anybody for weeks on end, then get together and compare notes."
In fact, Mellencamp and King met numerous times in person while crafting Ghost Brothers, but also collaborated "over the phone and by text," Mellencamp says. "This thing's so old, we did some of it by fax."
Neither were strangers to musical theater. King was familiar with West Side Story and My Fair Lady, and "downloaded The Music Man on iTunes," he says. And he had previously written one play: "It was for my Boy Scout troop, when I was about 11. It was very well reviewed, by my parents."
The stage had also figured into Mellencamp's youth. His older brother, Joe, "had the lead in all the high-school musicals when I was growing up, and we had all these original (Broadway) cast records."
When King began work on Ghost Brothers, he says, "I wanted to write something simple, that could be performed in community theaters and (repertory) halls." While both he and Mellencamp were pleased with the Alliance's staging, and also workshopped the show in New York last year, they were wary of the "amusement-park" vibe, as King puts it, they associated with contemporary Broadway musicals.
The tour, says Mellencamp, will be "more in the tradition of an old radio show," with "not as much movement" as in the original stage production, "so it distracts less from Steve's story."
Whether Ghost Brothers will have a future life after the trek remains to be seen, but King thinks "it's the best music (Mellencamp) has ever done —- so generous and open." And he "enjoyed working with John. I hope he'd say that he enjoyed working with me."
Mellencamp would, and does. "Steve and I haven't had one cross word over this. We've become like brothers. I know the guy would do anything for me, and vice versa."