Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The King of Broadway?

Jake La Botz as The Shape

Many theater buffs both in-and-out of New York have little idea of how formidable mounting a large-scale Broadway show can be.  While “straight” plays would seem to be easy, new plays are often rewritten or recast, directors changed, and sometimes, nightmare of nightmares, even sets and costumes can change days (or hours!) before opening night.

Now take those problems and multiply them by a factor of 1000.  That’s how hard it is to mount a large-scale musical.

One show that promises to come to Broadway is Ghost Brothers of Darkland County, a new musical with a book by Stephen King and music by John Mellencamp.  It is currently on hand at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta, and initial reviews are little-short of ecstatic.

As could be expected from the American master of the macabre, Darkland County is Southern Gothic of the most delicious type.  The story shifts between 1967 and 2007, and chronicles the haunting of Joe McCandless (Shuler Hensley).  McCandless witnessed his two brothers die while fighting over a girl 40 years ago -- he now fears that history will repeat itself as his two sons are heading for a similar fate.  Connecting these desperate threads is The Shape (Jake La Botz), who functions as the Devil, the MC and Virgil to Hensley’s Dante.

Darkland has had a long gestation period, with King and Mellencamp working on it for 12 years.  The show missed its originally-planned 2009 debut when Mellencamp had disagreements with the original director, subsequently bringing on Susan V. Booth (who also runs the Alliance).

The show has opened to extremely positive reviews, with La Botz receiving the lion’s share of praise for his slithery turn as The Shape.  This handsome, talented actor and musician has been increasingly cast in featured supporting roles in big-budget films, and The Shape may be his long-deserved breakthrough part.  Darland County continues in Atlanta until May 13th.  If all continues to augur well, Darkland may create a new star in La Botz, and cement a Broadway triumph for both King and Mellencamp.

John Mellencamp (born 1951) is, of course, one of the country’s most famous rock stylists.  Stephen King (born 1947) is the author of 49 novels, many screenplays and countless short stories; it’s possible that King has sold more books in the 20th Century than any other living author.  His most recent novel, 11/22/63, takes as its conceit a time traveler seeking to stop the Kennedy assassination.  It is one of the most satisfying reads I’ve had in some time.

Will Ghost Brothers of Darkland County make it to Broadway?  Certainly the names Mellencamp and King have proven to be golden in the past, and La Botz is rapidly building a devoted fan base.  This is definitely a show to watch.

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