By Manning Harris
A couple of weeks ago the Alliance Theatre held a press conference at the Third Floor Rehearsal Hall of the Woodruff Arts Center. It was quite an auspicious occasion.
In attendance were the creative team and cast of the upcoming world premiere musical “Ghost Brothers of Darkland County,” to be presented April 4 through May 13, 2012 at the Alliance. The show is described as “a riveting Southern gothic tale fraught with mystery, tragedy, and ghosts of the past.” In the small town of Lake Belle Reve, Mississippi, in 1957 a terrible tragedy took the lives of two brothers and a beautiful young girl. Forty years later the truth of what really happened may finally be revealed, but not without dire repercussions.
Let’s get back to the press conference—talk about star power: Stephen King (book), John Mellencamp (music and lyrics), and T Bone Burnett (musical direction) were seated, live and in person, at a table with Director Susan V. Booth (Artistic Director of the Alliance). To their left the entire cast sat in two rows of chairs—more about them in a moment.
It appears that Mr. Mellencamp had an idea twelve years ago (things often move slowly in the theatre world) which he pitched to his friend Mr. King, who wrote a 60-page treatment. All these people have busy careers, of course; but happily, the show is at last underway, casting is complete, and show dates have been set. The cast gathered in Atlanta on December 5 to participate in a 10-day developmental workshop, culminating in a press conference which yours truly attended.
Atlanta was evidently the first choice for the premiere by all parties concerned: Mr. King said that “Atlanta is the best of all possible worlds” to do this show; and “This is not a minor league city or theatre.” He went on to say that Atlanta is “cosmopolitan, but still in touch with its country roots.” Mr. Burnett said the creators wanted a “dark, foggy” atmosphere and reiterated that Atlanta was the ideal place to put the show together.
All three men were emphatic in stating that Director Susan Booth was a huge factor in their decision to come here. Ms. Booth, grinning like the Cheshire cat (and why shouldn’t she be?), introduced her illustrious team (“This is Stephen King; he writes books) with lighthearted confidence and delight. There was a definite love fest going on among all the big-name creators; Mr. Mellencamp joked that he and Mr. King had become good pals very easily, since neither had any real friends.
But again, Mr. Burnett, Mr. Mellencamp, and Mr. King repeatedly voiced their admiration for Ms. Booth. If there was any doubt before, it can be stated emphatically that Susan Booth is the most powerful person in Atlanta theatre. But she gives credit where credit is due; for example, she praised casting director Jody Feldman for her expertise.
Speaking of the cast, Atlanta’s own Tony-winning Shuler Hensley, Broadway’s Emily Skinner, and Justin Guarini (of American Idol and Broadway fame) are the leading players. Dale Watson, American alternative country singer, guitarist, and songwriter is also in the group. I noticed the young leading lady of Actor’s Express’ triumphant “Spring Awakening,” Kylie Brown, is also in the show.
There’s always talk of “Will it go to Broadway?” in big shows like this (a la “Aida” and “The Color Purple”), but the big-name creative team were firm in saying that their goal is to knock Atlanta audiences for a loop; the rest is gravy.
Special thanks to Clay Fisher for his photography for this piece. For tix: alliancetheatre.org/ghostbrothers