The long-awaited musical "Ghost Brothers of Darkland County" made its Milwaukee premiere at the Riverside Theater Tuesday night. With music and lyrics by John Mellencamp and a libretto by Stephen King (plus musical direction by T Bone Burnett), the musical took roughly a decade to make.
Even though the talent involved didnâ€™t come from a Broadway background, they crafted an incredibly unique musical that works while reflecting some of the themes and styles present in the previous work of its creators.
The musical revolved around the character of Joe McCandless, played by Bruce Greenwood. In 1967, Joe witnessed a tragedy at the familyâ€™s cabin involving his two older brothers that both loved the same woman.Â 40 years later, he sees the traits that led to their downfall present in his own sons.
Joe hasnâ€™t been able to shake what happened in the past and has never fully disclosed his version of the events that happened that night. He brings his family to the cabin to finally tell the tale that will clear his mind. However, Joe and his family are not alone in the cabin. They are joined by four spirits linked to that terrible tragedy (including the titular ghost brothers of Andy and Jack McCandless) and a much more sinister presence.
In a unique staging, the entire cast and the band were on-stage the entire time. Actors who weren't involved in a scene would remain seated while the action took place in front of them downstage.
Dramatic lighting cues were pivotal to the evening, as the show didn't feature any major set changes. Instead, the entire production took place in front of a backdrop representing the cabin and other key elements of the show.
The sound design was really well done, which mattered a great deal since some of the action on-stage was mimed, and the sound effects used added depth to the scene. Furthermore, not only was the music written by John Mellencamp, but the four-piece band that played during the show were all members of the Mellencamp Band.
"Ghost Brothers of Darkland County" spends a great deal of time allowing the audience to learn about the characters. Instead of rushing to tell Joeâ€™s version of the story, the first act focuses on the conflict between his sons and allows the audience to see a glimpse of the toll this burden has been on Joe.
Factoring in an intermission, the production clocked in at close to two hours and 45 minutes. The pace of the show was pretty consistent with the exception of a major scene at the end of the show. Since the audience spent so much time with the characters, to suddenly have a wild change take place was jolting. The epilogue to this scene was still satisfying, but it could have been greater earned if a little more work had been put in to not sprint through this key sequence.
The cast was excellent, especially the performances from Greenwood and Broadway veteran Emily Skinner as Monique McCandless. Eric Mooreâ€™s booming voice stood out in songs featuring the full company such as "Tear This Cabin Down" and "Truth," while Zac Ballardâ€™s much softer tone was perfect for "My Name Is Joe." However, the scene stealer of the show was absolutely Jake La Botz as The Shape, oozing the devilish delight and confidence required for the role.
It might have taken a long time for Mellencamp and King to put this show together, but for the audience at the Riverside Theater on Tuesday night, their diligence was appreciated.
No Talkbacks for this article.
Post your comment/review now
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.
Recent Articles & Blogs by OnMilwaukee.com Staff Writers
Published April 29, 2017
The great Milwaukee weekend is here ... and so is your Weekend Preview! Make it a great one!
Published April 27, 2017
After the Bucks split the first four games of their first-round Eastern Conference playoff series against the Raptors, the team travels back to Toronto for Game 5 and will again host a viewing party in Milwaukee to allow fans to come out and cheer the deer together on Monday night.
Published April 26, 2017
Now that spring is just about to kick off, you'll be able to raise the first of many steins at an area beer garden soon.
Published April 24, 2017
The 11th annual Milwaukee Italian Film Festival - which debuted in 2007 at Marquette's Varsity Theater - premieres eight acclaimed Italian films, April 28-30, at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee's Union Theater, 2200 E. Kenwood Blvd.
Published April 23, 2017
Whether your kid is more bouncy or more craft-oriented, there's a Brew City birthday party that can accommodate his / her wishes - and hopefully your budget.
Published April 23, 2017
For the past 15 years, artist Nicolas Lampert has focused on connecting local artists to Milwaukee social justice organizations, such as Voces de la Frontera and ReciproCity, Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service reports.
Published April 22, 2017
Just choose a few containers or locate some spots in the garden where you can include these bold-leafed beauties. Before you know it, you'll be sipping your favorite beverage in your very own tropical garden.
Published April 20, 2017
Now that "Pet Sounds" is celebrating its 51st birthday, the Beach Boys are traveling the world and celebrating the album one last time. That included a stop at Riverside Theater on Wednesday night, where they filled the auditorium with their smooth, melodic tunes.
Published April 20, 2017
Your Milwaukee Bucks are in the playoffs! If you can't make it to the festive atmosphere at the BMO Harris Bradley Center pull up a stool at any one of these great options.
Published April 17, 2017
Despite some less-than-grand attempts by the FAA to educate the public, drones still remain an issue that most people do not understand, both in their functions and in the laws surrounding them. So let's dig into some of the basics.