Ghost Brothers: Review Roundup

Justin Guarini and Jake La Botz in Ghost Brothers

Reviews for Ghost Brothers of Darkland County, which received its world premiere at Alliance Theater in Atlanta, have been mixed but leaning negative. For the record, the creative team is Stephen King (book), John Mellencamp (lyrics and music), T Bone Burnett (music direction), Susan V. Booth (direction), Daniel Pelzig (choreography), Todd Rosenthal (sets), Susan E. Mickey (costumes), Robert Wierzel (lights), Clay Benning (sound), and Adam Larsen (projections). The cast includes Peter Albrink (Jack), Kylie Brown (Anna), Kate Ferber (Jenna), Justin Guarini (Drake), Shuler Hensley (Joe), Joe Jung (Newt), Lucas Kavner (Frank), Jake La Botz (The Shape), Royce Mann (Young Joe), Christopher L. Morgan (Dan), Emily Skinner (Monique), and Travis Smith (Andy).

Jim Farmer (Arts Atlanta): Moments of jagged brilliance, and some superb music, but it’s quite a way removed from being polished. … It’s basically thin material, stretched well past two hours. … Musically, however, Ghost Brothers has some stirring moments. … Despite the occasional good song, the show feels flat. While Mellencamp’s rock sensibility is all over it, there doesn’t seem to be much of King’s. … Few world premieres get it all right the first time. With some tightening and first-act restructuring, the ambitious Ghost Brothers of Darkland County holds exceptional promise. Die-hard Mellencamp and King fans will probably want to see it for the spectacle, but it’s not yet quite where it needs to be.

Manning Harris (Atlanta Intown): As a mesmerizing spectacle, Ghost Brothers dazzles. … The music! A rockin’ bluesy good score, expertly performed. Kudos to Mr. Mellencamp and Mr. Burnett. True, the songs don’t really drive the story forward; they comment on the action. Mr. Mellencamp said that was his aim. He succeeded. … It’s not really clear, compelling, character-driven theatre yet, but what brand new show doesn’t need a few tweaks? Ghost Brothers of Darkland County is expertly sung and acted. … Is it Broadway bound? All the creators say they don’t care, but I don’t believe them. Who knows? The main thing is it’s here now: carpe diem.

Frank Rizzo (Variety): The pairing of roots rocker John Mellencamp and horror scribe Stephen King for a Southern Gothic musical may sound irresistible. But it takes more than a groove and gore to make this tedious tale of brotherly bile work on stage. Sketchy character development, awkward staging and unclear storytelling make prospects for future life iffy beyond this world preem at Atlanta’s Alliance Theater. … Mellencamp’s songs either provide character comment, action accompaniment or honkytonk atmosphere, and while giving the show some percussive power, they rarely lift the proceedings emotionally. … But the principal weakness is King’s unfocused storytelling.

Jason Zinoman (New York Times): Developed over many years by famous musical-theater novices, this sprawling show … stitches together dynamic elements that never satisfyingly cohere. It has the feel of something devised over Skype. Fans of Mr. King and Mr. Mellencamp will, however, find much of interest, since you can hear their unmistakable voices. … The songs don’t move the story along so much as illuminate character. Too often they slow down Mr. King’s tale, when not actively distracting you from it with lyrics that tell more than show. … For a delicate, collaborative form like the musical, a simpler, streamlined narrative might have made more sense. Ghost Brothers brings to mind a suitably violent writer’s truism: Sometimes you have to kill your babies.

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