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Ghost Brothers of Darkland County

Ghost Brothers of Darkland County
Music John Mellencamp
Lyrics John Mellencamp
Book Stephen King
Premiere April 11, 2012 – United States
Productions 2012 Atlanta
2013 US regional tour
2014 US/Canada regional tour
Burnett playing guitar onstage
Veteran roots musician and record producer T-Bone Burnett helped direct the music for Ghost Brothers

Ghost Brothers of Darkland County is a musical with music and lyrics by United States South and Midwest. A soundtrack album has been released featuring numerous country, folk, and rock acts performing the songs.

The story is a Southern Gothic tale of two brothers who hate one another and are forced by their father to spend time in a haunted cabin, where they are visited by the ghosts of dead brothers who also hated one another.


  • Production 1
  • Plot 2
  • Songs 3
  • Reception 4
  • Album release 5
    • Track listing 5.1
  • References 6
  • External links 7


The project was first reported by Billboard in 2000. At that time, the title was Mississippi Ghost Brothers. According to King, Mellencamp conceived the plot. In August 2001, the AP reported that the musical would be finished by February 2002.

Mellencamp said in 2002 of his idea, "I plan to have every person sing from their generation. This is what I'm thinking right now, but it may not work out this way. When the 18-year-old sings, he'll be rapping at you. When the people in their 70s are singing, they'll be singing in the style of Broadway or the style of Frank Sinatra or country. I intend to cover any type of music that Americans have invented." He did not wind up following this format, as all the songs in the final production are performed in a folk and roots rock style.

In 2005, Mellencamp said in an interview, "He's got a hundred pages of dialogue, and I've got 15 songs. We have to figure how to cut it all down. We're having our first run-through in New York with actors and actresses to see what the hell it looks like."

Mellencamp provided this update of the musical's progress to the Chicago Tribune in November 2010:

"Rosanne Cash just kill that song or what!' The play is called Ghost Brothers of Darkling [sic] County, about two brothers who hate each other. If you could imagine Tennessee Williams meets Stephen King. They're recording the dialogue now and we're putting out a record of the entire show before it comes out. Right now, Elvis Costello, Meg Ryan, Kris Kristofferson and Matthew McConaughey are doing table readings like an old radio play. So you'll get all the dialogue, all the sound effects, and all the songs sung by different people so you can follow the story. The CD will come out ahead of time. So many people are involved, it's taken a long time. But we don't have to worry about money or record companies—it's our own money we're putting into it, so we said, let's just make something beautiful."

King and Mellencamp sought a regional theater to stage the show, and decided an Atlanta location offered unique advantages. "We wanted a place that was cosmopolitan but not out of touch with country roots. Atlanta seemed like the middle of the bulls-eye", King said. "You know that song, 'If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere?' That's how I feel about Atlanta and this show."[1][2]

Ghost Brothers began preview shows at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta on April 4, 2012, opened April 11 and played until May 13, 2012.[3] The musical was directed by Alliance Theatre director Susan V. Booth, with musical direction by T-Bone Burnett.

The cast included Tony Award winner Dale Watson. Completing the cast were Peter Albrink, Kylie Brown, Lori Beth Edgeman, Gwen Hughes, Joe Jung, Joe Knezevich, Rob Lawhon, Royce Mann, Travis Smith, Jeremy Aggers, Russell Cook, Stephanie Laubscher, Joseph Signa, and DeWayne Woods.[4]

The show featured the blood effects of Joseph Jefferson Award-winning special effects artist Steve Tolin, notable for his international work on Martin McDonagh's, The Lieutenant of Inishmore.[5]

The show went on a 20-city U.S. tour of the Midwest and Southeast in October–November 2013[6] and an 18-city tour of the Northeast (including Canada), Mid-Atlantic, Upper Midwest, and West regions is scheduled for late 2014.


A profile picture of King
Horror author Stephen King has worked in several media over the course of 40 years but never made a musical until this one

Describing the plot, Mellencamp said, "I can tell what it's not going to be like: It won't be 'Jack and Diane' meets Cujo. He's [King] already written the story—it's very beautiful, more like The Green Mile. It's an American story about an American family. Some of the characters are 100 years old, some are 15. So that will give me the opportunity to write for each character in a different style. I ain't writing a bunch of rock songs."

In a later interview he said, "[It's about] two brothers; they're 19 years old or 20, maybe 18 or 21, who are very competitive and dislike each other immensely. The father takes them to the family vacation place, a cabin that the boys hadn't been to since they were kids. What has happened is that the father had two older brothers who hated each other and killed each other in that cabin There's a confederacy of ghosts who also live in this house. The older [dead] brothers are there, and they speak to the audience, and they sing to the audience. That's all I want to say, except through this family vacation, many things are learned about the family, and many interesting songs are sung."

The official production synopsis reads: "In the tiny town of Lake Belle Reve, Mississippi in 1967, a terrible tragedy took the lives of two brothers and a beautiful young girl. During the next forty years, the events of that night became the stuff of local legend. But legend is often just another word for lie. Joe McCandless knows what really happened; he saw it all. The question is whether or not he can bring himself to tell the truth in time to save his own troubled sons, and whether the ghosts left behind by an act of violence will help him—or tear the McCandless family apart forever."[4]


All songs were written by Mellencamp, except "That's Me," written by Mellencamp/Elvis Costello.[7]

  • "That's Me"
  • "That's Who I Am"
  • "So Goddamn Smart"
  • "How Many Days"
  • "Home Again"
  • "And You Are Blind"
  • "What's Going On Here?"
  • "Brotherly Love"
  • "My Name Is Joe"
  • "Tear This Cabin Down"
  • "Lounging Around in Heaven"
  • "And Your Days Are Gone"
  • "On Belle Reve Time"
  • "Jukin'"
  • "Put Me in the Ground"
  • "What Kind of Man Am I?"
  • "Away from This World"
  • "A Rose for Poor Anna"
  • "Truth"

Cut during previews

  • "The End Is Here"


Mellencamp standing onstage
Reviewers have emphasized the strength of Mellencamp's songwriting

A writer for Esquire Magazine sat in on a New York rehearsal of the show in the fall of 2007 and said: "Musicals aren't usually a guy thing. This one, though, is not only tolerable, it's good. It may be the first-ever musical written by men for men. There's no orchestra, just two twangy acoustic guitars, an accordion, and a fiddle. The songs are both haunting and all-American."[8]

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution noted in 2013 that "reviews were mixed" of the original production, but "the problems that required tweaking all resided in Stephen King's book—particularly an overlong, muddled second act—never in the music of John Mellencamp."[9]

In its original review, the AJC called the musical "a pretty awesome spectacle", praising Mellencamp's "rousing score, a fusion of blues, country and rock that's superbly performed by [director Susan] Booth's 19-member cast. Under Burnett's musical direction, the sensational four-piece band never misses a beat." Of the plot, the reviewer commented: "As a prolific novelist, King is a legendary master of suspense. As a first-time playwright, he doesn't really break new ground so much as he sticks to what he does best. Indeed, 'Ghost Brothers' might impress as a freaky paranormal morality tale on the surface, but at its core it spins a story as ancient as Cain and Abel—or, for one dysfunctional family living in backwoods Mississippi circa 2007, as recent as a mysterious tragedy from 40 years earlier."[10]

The New York Times review said "[t]he production is as rambling as the script", asking "with its parade of Southern Gothic references (Faulkner, Williams, O'Connor) and melodramatic metaphors, is the show supposed to be a winking, mischievous musical? It's not clear." Of the plot, it said "[t]he intricate story of Ghost Brothers might work wonderfully on the page... but the mood too often wavers. The ghosts fade into the background, sometimes on purpose, other times not." The review praised musical director Burnett, who "handles a diverse range of styles without ever sounding a slick note" with "an impressive chorus of voices to support Mr. Mellencamp's score of blues, gospel and roots." It noted that, overall, "the show does resist cliché."[11]

Album release

Ghost Brothers of Darkland County
Soundtrack album by various artists
Released June 4, 2013 (2013-06-04)
Recorded 2009–2010
Genre Americana
Length 70:06
Language English
Label Hear Music
Producer T-Bone Burnett

A CD/DVD edition, with the dialogue, soundtrack, handwritten lyrics and a mini-documentary about the making of the musical, was released on June 4, 2013. The soundtrack contains other artists such as Elvis Costello, Neko Case, Kris Kristofferson, Sheryl Crow, Taj Mahal and Rosanne Cash performing the songs. The album was produced by T-Bone Burnett.[12]

Mellencamp has compared the CD version of the musical as being akin to "an old radio show with music."[13][14]

Track listing

The performer(s) of each track is listed next to the title. This differs slightly from the songs performed at the original Atlanta production.


  1. ^ "King, Mellencamp stage musical in Midtown". Neighbor Newspapers. April 18, 2000. 
  2. ^ "John Mellencamp to speak at IUB commencement" (Press release). Indiana University. April 18, 2000. 
  3. ^ Hetrick, Adam (March 31, 2011). "Stephen King-John Mellencamp Musical Ghost Brothers of Darkland County Will Materialize in Atlanta". Retrieved March 31, 2011. 
  4. ^ a b Hetrick, Adam (November 9, 2011). "Ghost Brothers of Darkland County Musical to Star Shuler Hensley, Emily Skinner and Justin Guarini". Retrieved January 25, 2012. 
  5. ^ "Stephen King's Down-Home Nightmare". American Theatre. April 2012. 
  6. ^ Melissa Ruggieri (May 10, 2013). "King, Mellencamp's 'Ghost Brothers' going on tour". Retrieved June 5, 2013. 
  7. ^ "Ghost Brothers of Darkland County Songs". April 2012. Retrieved August 12, 2012. 
  8. ^ "No. 88: 'Ghost Brothers of Darkland County,' a Musical for Men". Esquire. 2007-09-18. Retrieved 2012-01-21. 
  9. ^ Melissa Ruggieri (June 4, 2013). "'"Tuesday Tunes: 'Ghost Brothers of Darkland County. Retrieved June 5, 2013. 
  10. ^ Bert Osborne (April 12, 2012). Ghost Brothers of Darkland County" a musical horror story that twists and turns""". Retrieved June 5, 2013. 
  11. ^ Jason Zinoman (May 2, 2012). "These Ghosts Are Singing With a Southern Twang". The New York Times. Retrieved June 5, 2013. 
  12. ^ "John Mellencamp's Musical With Stephen King Nearing Completion". Rolling Stone. 2012-11-14. Retrieved 2012-11-14. 
  13. ^ "Elvis Costello, Neko Case Join Stephen King/John Mellencamp Musical | News". Pitchfork. January 4, 2010. Retrieved 2012-01-21. 
  14. ^ "John Mellencamp – News – 527". Retrieved 2012-01-21. 

External links

  • Official website
  • "News 2000: Exclusive: Mellencamp, Stephen King Developing Musical".
  • Fox reports about Ghost Brothers"The Ghost Brothers of Darkland County"News - December 27, 2011
  • "Work Progresses on John Mellencamp-Stephen King Musical Darkland County". 3 January 2006.
  • "Interview - Stephen King part 3". January 18, 2007.
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