The music was purely John Mellencamp. The story was classic Stephen King. Together they brought "Ghost Brothers of Darkland County" to a full audience at Embassy Theatre Thursday night.
The stage was simple. Four musicians from Mellencamp's band were off to the side. Chairs curved around an old-style radio microphone that stood at center stage. The backdrop was a collage of images - a grandfather clock, the Dreamland Café and "the cabin" - each image was important as the story unfolded before the audience.
The characters and story proved to be a bit more complex, and I'm sure my companion and I weren't the only ones who left the theater deep in thought about the message, or moral, of the story set at the Dreamland Café in Lake Bell Reve, Miss., in 1967 and 2007.
The musical began with a flashback to 1967 as two brothers - Andy and Jack McCandless - fight for a girl's affection with tragic results in the cabin. Jack kills Andy by mistake, then Jack and the girl, Jenna Farrell, leap to their deaths off a ridge in remorse.
History looks to repeat itself as the story advances to 2007, where Frank McCandless has successfully lured Anna Wicklow away from his brother Drake to the cabin where the previous tragedy took place. Frank and Drake are nephews to the deceased brothers of 1967. Animosity and jealousy abound in the two brothers who cannot see eye to eye about anything.
Seeing that tragedy is about to strike again, Joe McCandless, father to Frank and Drake and brother to Andy and Jack, gathers the family at the cabin to tell the truth about events that took place that night in 1967.
Joe, played by actor Bruce Greenwood who recently starred in "Star Trek Into Darkness," agonizes over his decision to tell his boys how his brothers died, but he knows he must if he is to spare his sons the same fate.
Monique McCandless, played by Broadway actress Emily Skinner, portrays Joe's wife and voice of reason throughout much of the two-act musical. Matter-of-fact, she is pivotal to Joe's very existence.
While the story seems pretty straight-forward, remember King wrote the libretto. The plot moves quickly in the second act and the truth eventually sets Joe free, but at what price? Without divulging the ending, let's just say Joe pays a pretty penny. Was it worth telling the truth - at that moment in time?
Two other characters are worth mentioning here - the Zydeco Cowboy and The Shape. Cowboy advanced the storyline with his singing. The Shape announced himself as the "conscience," but he was basking in a red stage light that oozed the devil himself, constantly getting the characters to do what he wanted them to do. Though each had a purpose, King revealed just how witty he is by using these two characters as comedic relief. "Looks like we have a Lifetime Channel situation" and describing hell as a "dry heat" are a couple examples.
Mellencamp's music was pure Americana that made me tap my toes on more than one occasion. The actors sang well, especially Eric Moore, who received rousing applause after performing "Tear This Cabin Down" with the rest of the cast at the end of the first act.
If King and Mellencamp decide to collaborate on another musical, I only hope it doesn't take 13 years to complete like this one did.