‘Ghost Brothers of Darkland County’ opens Saturday at Stephens

Co-conspirators Stephen King, John Mellencamp and T Bone Burnett present: “Ghost Brothers of Darkland County,” A riveting stage experience in 20 Midwest cities. “Ghost Brothers of Darkland County” will be in Ames at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Stephens Auditorium.

This extraordinary collaboration, 13 years in the making, is a haunting tale of fraternal love, lust, jealousy and revenge, which will be performed by an ensemble cast of 15 actors and a four-piece live band.

The “Ghost Brothers of Darkland County” saga began when Mellencamp told King about a cabin on his land in Indiana where two brothers had gotten in a fight over a girl; one brother accidentally killing the other, only to die along with the girl in a car crash a short time later. King came up with an outline for a play in a matter of days. And then off and on, back and forth, they began to develop it into a full-length musical.

The superb blues ‘n’ roots music of Ghost Brothers reflects the wide range of styles and influences needed for a work that jumps back and forth across decades. Rather than use the songs to propel the play’s narrative, as in a conventional musical, Mellencamp chose to make them a way to reveal the emotions and inner workings of the characters.

Set in the tiny town of Lake Belle Reve, Mississippi, the Ghost Brothers’ story centers on two sets of brothers: the ghosts of Jack and Andy, dead in an apparent murder/suicide, and their nephews, the living Frank and Drake, who seem to be headed toward the same downward spiral as their uncles. Joe, younger brother of Jack and Andy, father of Frank and Drake, has decided it’s time to reveal his own terrible secret at the site of the tragedy, before it’s too late.

As the story emerged during the writing of the musical, it became clear to the collaborators that Ghost Brothers had taken them into unfamiliar territory – and they liked it that way. “John can make rock & roll records and I can write books for the rest of our lives,” says King, “but that’s the safe way to do it, and that’s no way to live if you want to stay creative. We were willing to be educated, and at our age, that’s an accomplishment.”

Putting King’s words and Mellencamp’s songs on the stage is in the skillful hands of acclaimed director Susan Booth, who calls the musical “a kind of new age travelling medicine show.” “This is a gothic story-driven rock concert,” says Booth. “I want the emphasis to be on this fantastic score and our great singers and how the story advances us from song to song. In most musicals, the songs advance the narrative. With Ghost Brothers, the story will advance the songs.”

For information on this performance visit www.ghostbrothersofdarklandcounty.com

Tickets are $67.50; $54.50; $39.50 and are available at the Iowa State Center Ticket Office. Hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday-Friday. Tickets can also be purchased at all Ticketmaster centers: online at www.ticketmaster.com or by phone at 800-745-3000.