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Stephen King on the musical stage: ‘Carrie,’ ‘Ghost Brothers’ and ‘The Shining'?

The attempts to adapt horror-related material to the musical stage have been more successful than one might imagine. From The Rocky Horror Show and Sweeney Todd to Phantom of the Opera and Little Shop of Horrors, gothic visions often do want to be accompanied by greasepaint, melodrama, and a full orchestra. Shoot, even Fiddler on the Roof has a frightening number called The Dream, where Tevye relates a nightmare to his wife. Sam Raimi’s cult film The Evil Dead has its own musical stage incarnation, which is reportedly bloody good.

Ghost Brothers of Darkland County
Alliance Theatre

If any similar project should have been bloody good, it was the 1988 musical version of Stephen King’s Carrie. Yet after 16 previews and 5 performances, the $8 million show closed, and became one the biggest flops in Broadway history. In January 2012, a revamped version of the show opened off-Broadway … to yet another meh response. It closed in April.

Opening on an Atlanta stage at the same time that Carrie is closing in New York (again), is the ten-years-in-development collaboration between Stephen King and John Mellancamp – a horror musical entitled Ghost Brothers of Darkland County. The official production synopsis reads as follows:

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.

Watch the video above to hear King and Mellancamp talk about how this collaboration came to fruition.

Now … I told you all that to tell you this, LOL.

Are there other Stephen King novels that could be adapted for the musical stage? After some very interesting conversations about this topic on the Stephen King blogs RamblingsOfAHonkMahfah and TalkStephenKing (both highly recommended), I came up with (what I consider to be) some interesting ideas.

The first King book that pops into my twisted mind, ready to be adapted into a stage show with musical numbers, is The Shining. After all, this is a classic story of isolation set in an iconic Bad Place (the claustrophobic setting could be easily replicated on the stage), has over the top themes like malevolent ghosts and a murderous father (the better to go all operatic on), and deals with dysfunctional familial relationships (always good musical fodder). Click on over to TheWordslinger (my website) for more on this, including a very cool graphic.

I could see it going something like this:

SHINING! – a musical in 3 acts
based on the novel by Stephen King
written and directed by Andy Williamson (HA!)

JACK (singing soft and sincere to his son)
"I would never hurt you, Danny – nor slap, nor hit, nor sever.
We'll be safe right here in The Overlook – forever and ever and ever!"

I can imagine many song titles, like:

Ode to Mr. Ullman (Officious Little Prick)
You Gotta Watch Her, She Creeps (The Boiler Song)
Stay Away, Danny (Tony's Lament)
Closing Day
What's Up, Doc?
It's a Long Way to Topiary
Come and Play with Us, Danny
Snow! Snow! Snow!
Splish! Splash! (The Woman in 217)
All Work and No Play (Makes Jack a Dull Boy)
White Man's Burden (aka Drinks on the House)
Gimme the Bat, Wendy (The Bash Your Brains In Song)
Let Me Out! (The Pantry Song)
Bring us Your Son
Take Your Medicine (you damned little pup)!
Redrum, Redrum
Oh, Danny Boy!

I am only half kidding. (Or am I?) Given the over the top, operatic themes of this story, I think this could actually work.

On those aforementioned King blogs, I was dared to do a similar treatment (silly though they are) on King’s apocalyptic novel The Stand. Off the top of my head, this is what I came up with. (Those familiar with this end-of-the-world story may appreciate this – others will probably scratch their heads and go, Huh?)

THE STAND – an opera in 5 acts
based on the novel by Stephen King

Don't Fear the Reaper
Welcome to Arnette (aka Turn Off Your Pumps, Hap)
Bun in the Oven (Frannie's Song)
You Ain't No Nice Guy (Larry's Lament)
Gesundheit! (The Super Flu Song) aka Ah-CHOO!
The Walkin Dude – The Ballad of the Dark Man
Baby, Can You Dig Your Man?
You Come And See Me (in Hemingford Home)
Huh? What'd You Say? (My Name is Nick)
M-O-O-N (That Spells a Big Song and Dance Number)
AAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!!!!!!! (The Lincoln Tunnel Song)
Captain Trips – The End of the World As We Know it
Devil's Bride – Oh How I Love to Love Nadine
Call Me Hawk
My Life For You! (Trash's Song)
Mayhap It Is, and Mayhap It Ain't
Think Of Them As Cordwood (The Clean-Up Song)
When You're Smiling! (Harold's Mantra)
Viva Las Vegas
Make Yo Stand (The Death of Mother Abigail)
A Long Walk
Ow! My Leg! (Stu's Bad Break)
Tin God
I'll See You in Hell (aka Nadine Goes SPLAT!)
Da Bomb! (Reprise: My Life For You)
M-O-O-N (That Spells STU!)
Back In Baby's Arms

I have heard bits of music from Carrie - The Musical, and I think what's missing is a sense of FUN! Just because material is dark or disturbing doesn't mean you can't add a bit of levity to it. Especially if you are trying to translate it to the musical stage. Yes, my tongue is firmly planted in my cheek here, but … if anyone out there with more musical ability than myself thinks there is something to this and would like to talk further about it, please contact me.

So … what say you? Is this a good idea, or do I have bats in my belfry? Are there other King novels which would make for a good musical?

(I'm thinking Misery – if only to hear Annie Wilkes belt out numbers like Number One Fan, You Dirty Bird!, Hog Heaven, They Cheated Us – aka The Cockadoodie Car Song, and I Wanna Be Your Sledgehammer!)

Sound off below.


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