Musicals, John Mellencamp and Stephen King   Leave a comment


Over the past weekend Mary Poppins was on, yes once again.  It’s an easy film to watch but once again the whole premise of musicals struck me –there you are in the middle of a scene and suddenly a character starts to sing, backed by a full orchestra and backing singers – all in a children’s bedroom!

We accept these scenes; West Side Story, The Sound of Music, all the classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals, the list goes on.  Fame is one musical that works for me, the setting being ideal for a musical.  Irene Cara is simply stunning in the film, for me one of the best musical performances in a film – she won an Oscar.

Is Footloose classed as a musical?  Interesting.  It has transferred fairly successfully to the stage, as has numerous other films with music – Mamma Mia (which I’m sorry but I so dislike), Billy Elliot and recently the Dave Stewart produced Ghost, and for some reason, U2’s Spiderman show, which has been plagued with many problems.

The cost of staging a musical is high, very high.  For someone like myself who has bemoaned the cost of staging one of my own ‘two-hander’ plays, (plays with only two characters), to the point of cancelling the play in the end because it simply would not be anywhere near financially viable, the cost of producing and staging a musical is beyond imagination.

Possibly the two main theatre producers in the UK, and indeed the world, are Andrew Lloyd Webber and Cameron Mackintosh, who coincidentally used to lived quite close to each other, and us when we lived on the Hampshire/Berkshire border.

From our bedroom you could see Watership Down, which Webber owns, or owned at that time.  I’ve never met Webber but have met Cameron a couple of times, mainly in the Carpenter Arms, a pub he used to own I think in HIghclere, by the castle they use for Downton Abbey.  It was there I met the late producer Simon Channing Williams, who was so encouraging about my writing.  Simon produced Mike Leigh’s brilliant films and was also the producer for the Richard E Grant vehicle, When Jack met Sarah, a romcom.

Another Jack met Diane, as in the great John Mellencamp song Jack and Diane.  Mellencamp is not that well known in the UK, but most people will know this song.  In the States he has somewhat perhaps been overshadowed by Bruce Springsteen.

Mellencamp started out as Johnny Cougar, signed to Rod Stewart’s label Riva.  He had a couple of hits but then started to use his real name, Mellencamp.  As he matured as a writer and artist he has in many ways become the voice of the Heartland, rural America.  His songs are so ‘American’ they are probably the reason he has not enjoyed much recognition out of the States.

A few years ago he starred in and directed a surprisingly strong movie, Falling from Grace, written by Larry McMurty – check it out if you get the chance.   He is also a driving force with Willie Nelson, Neil Young and Dave Matthews behind Farm Aid.

His latest venture though interests me greatly; a musical he has written with novelist Stephen King!  An odd pairing at first glance, but then it really makes sense.



Of course better known for his horror books – Carrie, the Shining, Misery, Pet Cemetery, Salem’s Lot etc., my favourite King books or stories are the human drama ones – Stand By Me being the outstanding one.

King also collaborated with Michael Jackson on the short film Ghosts.

The Ghost Brothers of Darkland County is the name of the musical they have created together.  It promises to be a must see.

It is based on a true story; Mellencamp bought a cabin in his home state of Indiana only to find that fifty years ago by the cabin two brothers had fought over a local girl, and one of the brothers had killed the other.

He loved the story and wanting to write a ghost story, well why not go to the best ghost writer in the business, which is what he did.  Both Mellencamp and King are Tennessee Williams’ fans, hence a couple of nods in the script to the great writer.

It has taken many years to come together, twelve in fact and the musical opens tonight, April 11, for previews at the Alliance Theater in Atlanta.  The show features a stripped down, four piece band, all playing roots instruments, and the music director is T Bone Burnett.

I hope it is a huge success for them and transfers to film shortly.

Here is a link to Jack and Diane –

and I had to add this, a link to Irene Cara, singing Out Here on my Own, from Fame –


Posted April 11, 2012 by Jon Johanson in Uncategorized

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