Go see a haunting new musical by John Mellencamp and Stephen King

Go see a haunting new musical by John Mellencamp and Stephen King

Best Bet: American Horror Story (Image: Harry Sandler)
 

Like all great ghost stories, this one begins with a haunted house. In 1996, John Mellencamp, the singer-songwriter known for twangy ’80s power rock, bought a lake house in Indiana. When the owners mentioned the place happened to be haunted, Mellencamp was curious. He did some digging and discovered the story of two feuding brothers who’d lived there back in the ’30s; after fighting over the same girl, one brother crushed the other’s skull with a fire poker. As Mellencamp got used to the creepy rhythms of the house—mysterious cigar smells, flickering lights, strange noises—he started imagining a spooky, sinister musical inspired by the tale.

Ghost Brothers of Darkland County is as mythic as its source material, a theatrical pipe dream that took 13 years to come to fruition. In 2000, Mellencamp called up horror maestro Stephen King to write the libretto. They agonized over the songs and script for a decade, then brought in T-Bone Burnett, the roots-rock titan responsible for O Brother, Where Art Thou and Crazy Heart, as musical director. In 2012, the triumvirate released an album featuring stars like Elvis Costello, Neko Case, Rosanne Cash, Kris Kristofferson and Sheryl Crow—a parade of shadowy honky-tonk melodies and goosebump-inducing sound effects.

In the stage version, which hits town for one night only next week, the action has been transplanted to a family cabin in Mississippi. It’s less a play than a live rendition of an old-timey radio show, one that blends King’s atmospheric terror, Mellencamp’s hummable tunes and Burnett’s southern Gothic patina into a theatrical experience that’s as haunting as the ghosts onstage.

Tues. Nov. 11. $42.50–$85. Massey Hall, 178 Victoria St., 416-872-4255, masseyhall.com.