“Any Kind of Dead Person” Ghost or not
needs to experience GHOST QUARTET
Halloween week is here and this theatre season there are some excellent spooky options to explore. At the Curran Under Construction Fall series GHOST QUARTET haunts the Curran stage for an excellent evening of music and talking to Ghosts. Composer and Bay Area artist Dave Malloy has created a musical homage to haunts and the after world. Malloy has some some impressive work here in the Bay with the Shotgun players “Beowulf – A Thousand Years of Baggage” and he has worked with the award winning youth stage group YMTC from the east bay. But his Off-Broadway pop opera “Natasha, Pierre, & the Great Comet of 1812”, won him a few honors.
The honorable extraordinary Carole Shorenstein Hays continues to have a brilliant series of new work to her Curran stage. Since she has moved on from “SHN” it has been a huge plus to the Bay Area theatre scene. All performances at the “Under Construction” series are performed on stage while the front of the house is rebuilt. Malloy's creation includes three other performers musicians, Brittain Ashford, Gelsey Bell, and Brent Arnold. Malloy has taken this performance to a few venues including NY, and makes sure to use intimate spaces to involve the audience and personalize the music for each audience. Instruments and sections of the show are performed by the crowd as well as Malloy sharing shots of fine whisky with the audience during one of the tunes. The other three cast members are planted in the audience creating that bond.
Malloy developed GHOST at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s Ground Floor workshop. The concept is a song style with chamber texture mixed with honky tonk and opera. It is not linear but there are elements that create the story. Sister Rose who died as a child, the House of Usher, and of course whiskey are all explored in the this 90 min mood setting chamber passion of Ghost and wonderful tunes. The set design by Christopher Bowser, uses the cozy living room effect of the spooky Curran house. The curtain is up and the chandelier lit at times to explore the many songs in the show.
The format is set up as Malloy announces each track of the full two albums. The music comes from a number of styles, including folk pop, classical and modern chorus. “Soldier and Rose” is a middle eastern arch with a country western tang and “Monk” is a tribute to the great Thelonious Monk, one of Malloy’s hero’s. An excellent cello is in the mix and brings some rich sounds. I did mention the audience is given some instruments and for the most part it all adds to the electropop darkness of the evening.
The core of the music is the score by Malloy who is on piano, and Brent Arnold on cello and an assortment string instruments. On vocals and percussion are Brittian Ashford and Gelsey Bell who have both amazing voices that fill the Curran space. All four do sing but the women take the bulk of the vocals. The feel is a large living room of performers and instruments - very cozy and easy access. The story from the songs is at times hard to follow, but GHOST QUARTET is layered with "The Fall of the House of Usher" and that memorable New York Post’s cover photo of a man about to be killed by a subway train is worked into the text. Their mentions of ghosts and deaths and contacting the dead. At times Malloy works in some story technique that you would get from a Sondheim tale or the Phantom still lost in the wings of the Curran.
The highlight for me was the “no light” section - completely performed in the dark and Bowser's lighting creeping up at times to reveal the women screeching. The story continues in the “lights out” and what better way to grasp a ghost tale. Even the exit lights went dark, and that wonderful Curran chandelier lowered for this series comes alive for this performance. So maybe the the Phantoms five year stint at the Curran is still at the heart of the ghosts of this wonderful evening. Director Annie Tippe keeps the evening and stories sweeping with grace and compelling. Tippe makes sure Malloy moves throughout the performance including when he passes out the whisky. Over 20 songs cover the night and the last song does reveal a message that fits this Halloween week.
I need to thank Hays for continuing to bring such delightful work to her Curran stage. With such a small house and elaborate productions, this series can not be pulling a profit, so we are gifted these wonderful shows until she opens the Curran in 2016 - This treat only runs til the end of the week Oct 31 - it closes Halloween night. Hurry to book your seats - all the details below.
“Ghost Quartet,” album can be purchase at indiegogo.com. (The show’s numbers are identified by their track and side numbers.)
Curran Theatre Under Construction Series Presents
Music, lyrics, and text by Dave Malloy.
Developed and arranged by Ghost Quartet.
Directed by Annie Tippe.
8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 23. Through Oct. 31. $25-$50.
Curran: Under Construction, 445 Geary St., S.F
Tickets at www.sfcurran.com.
Photos Ryan Jensen