Better Know the Show: Ghost Quartet

Because there aren’t many “household names” in this season of shows, Flowertown Underground will be providing short primers on Ghost Quartet, Public Reading, and Wit, introducing you to their playwrights and their themes. The first installment of this series takes a closer look at Dave Malloy’s haunted song cycle, Ghost Quartet.

Who is Dave Malloy?

Dave Malloy is a composer, playwright, lyricist, and actor from Cleveland, Ohio. He is best known in the theater world for Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812, an “electropop opera” adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s novel War & Peace which he wrote, composed, and often appeared in as the central role of Pierre Bezukhov. Comet premiered on Broadway in 2016 and was nominated for 12 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Original Score, and Best Book.

Malloy has been involved in the theater since 2000, when he got started in San Francisco’s underground scene. Other works include Preludes (based on the compositions of Sergei Rachmininoff), Beardo (a retelling of the life and death of Rasputin) and his most recent musical, Octet. He is currently working on a musical adaptation of Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, which is set to premiere at the American Repertory Theater this December.

What is Ghost Quartet?

Along with Comet, Preludes, and Octet, Ghost Quartet is considered to be one of Malloy’s major works. Originally conceived as a concept album, Ghost Quartet was first performed as a stage show at the Bushwick Starr in October 2014 with Malloy, Brittain Ashford, Brent Arnold, and Gelsey Bell. The production has since toured across the United States, and has appeared in Scotland and Australia, with an engagement in the United Kingdom set for 2020. The original concept album, as well as a live recording of the show, is available on streaming services.

What is Ghost Quartet about?

The following is Malloy’s description of the show, from his website:

“A song cycle about love, death, and whiskey. A camera breaks and four friends drink in an interwoven tale spanning seven centuries, with a murderous sister, a treehouse astronomer, a bear, a subway, and the ghost of Thelonious Monk.”

Ghost Quartet is an exploration of the stories that we tell ourselves, and why they resonate today, whether they be folklore, urban legends, myths, or, yes, ghost stories. Like some of Malloy’s work, there isn’t necessarily an overarching plot (though one character, Rose Red, is a constant presence) so much as there is a thematic throughline, through which there are enough “breadcrumbs” to connect the elements if an audience member chooses. As he said to Boston’s WBUR in 2015, “You can piece it together if you want to, but it’s not necessary to the experience.”

Those “breadcrumbs” take shape in four timelines the musical follows: a version of the “Twa Sisters” murder ballad; a retelling of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher; the Arabian folklore of The Thousand and One Nights; and an urban legend about a murder on a subway platform.

While it’s cliche to say that not much else plot-wise can be told here, as New York Times critic Ben Brantley astutely noted in his review, “ghost stories, more than any kind of fiction, should never be ravaged by spoilers.” Ghost Quartet is the kind of show that is best experienced live. And this fall, you’ll have that opportunity.

Ghost Quartet runs October 25th-November 2nd in the Back Alley Studio. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased HERE.

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