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Ray Routhier

Portland Press Herald staff writer Ray Routhier will try anything. Once. During 20 years at the Press Herald he’s been equally attracted to stories that are unusually quirky and seemingly mundane. He’s taken rides on garbage trucks, sought out the mother of two rock stars, dug clams, raked blueberries, and spent time with the family of bedridden man who finds strength in music. Nothing too dangerous mind you, just adventurous enough to find the stories of real Mainers doing real cool things.

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Posted: November 17, 2014

Stephen King’s musical thriller “Ghost Brothers of Darkland County” at Portland’s Merrill Auditorium Thursday

Written by: Ray Routhier
"Ghost Brothers of Darkland County" Courtesy photo

“Ghost Brothers of Darkland County” Courtesy photo

Stephen King says he usually he likes to do everything at least twice.

But when it comes to writing a musical for the stage, he’s not so sure.

For one thing, it takes longer than writing a book. He says it took more than ten years for his only musical so far, “Ghost Brothers of Darkland County,” to make it to opening night. For a man who usually writes novels faster than most of us can read one, that’s a long time.

Plus, he’s not sure he could find another collaborator as talented or experienced as the one he had on “Ghost Brothers”: rock star John Mellencamp.

“I like to do most things twice, because the second time around you put it all together and get it right,” said King, from his vacation home in Lovell, near Fryeburg. “Would I do another musical? I might. But I’m afraid working with John might have spoiled me.”

So instead of waiting for King’s next musical, you might want to catch “Ghost Brothers of Darkland County” while it’s on its current national tour. The show comes to Portland’s Merrill Auditorium Thursday.

The show stars two familiar faces from TV and film, Billy Burke and Gina Gershon. Burke starred on the recent NBC futuristic drama “Revolution,” and played Charlie Swan in the “Twilight” movies. Gershon’s career includes major films like “Cocktail” with Tom Cruise, “Showgirls,” and “Bound” with Jennifer Tilly. In recent years she’s had recurring roles on TV shows, including “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” “Rescue Me,” and “Ugly Betty.”

The show’s story focuses on Joe McCandless (Burke), whose two older brothers died years ago in a fight over a girl. The girl died too. As an adult, McCandless brings his own sons to the family cabin in Darkland County, Mississippi to tell them the horrible story. Set to music, of course.

Gershon plays Joe’s wife, Monique McCandless

When the show first opened, in Atlanta in 2012, New York Times reviewer Jason Zinoman wrote that fans of both Mellencamp and King would “find much of interest, since you can hear their unmistakable voices, particularly the witty, literate cackle of Mr. King, one of popular culture’s greatest storytellers.”

The songs, including hard-driving rockers and softer, poppier tunes, did not “move the story along so much as illuminate character,” Zinoman wrote.

Courtesy photo

Courtesy photo

King, 67, a Maine native who splits his year between a home in Florida and ones in Lovell and Bangor, was planning to attend a showing of “Ghost Brothers” in Orono earlier this month. He’s in the middle of a pretty busy year, even for a guy who has written more than 50 novels in 40 years. His new novel, “Revival,” came out this month and he went on a book tour to promote it.

Also, Hulu announced in September it will make a nine-hour miniseries based on King’s novel “11/22/63.” The movie “A Good Marriage,” based on a King short story, hit theaters in October. And another novel, “Mr. Mercedes” came out in June. King said he’s already finished that novel’s sequel, “Finders Keepers,” which will hit stores next year.

King’s desire to write a musical starts with his love of music. He plays guitar himself and has performed many times on stage, in a band with other authors called The Rock Bottom Remainders. He also uses Twitter frequently to turn other music fans on to bands he likes, including little known regional acts like Microwave Dave & The Nukes in Alabama or The Reach Around Rodeo Clowns in Pennsylvania.

He told Rolling Stone magazine recently that the best concert he ever saw was put on by Bruce Springsteen, in Lewiston, in 1977. And his favorite Springsteen album is “Nebraska,” which is full of story songs.

King gives much of the credit for “Ghost Brothers of Darkland County” to Mellencamp, who he says “took a kernel of an idea and turned it into a play.”

Plus, of course, Mellencamp wrote all the songs, music and lyrics.

“He’s one of the most talented people I’ve ever met. I’d say ‘maybe there ought to be a song here’ and he’d write the song,” said King.

“Ghost Brothers of Darkland County”

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Thursday
WHERE: Merrill Auditorium, 20 Myrtle St., Portland
HOW MUCH: $46.50 to $86.50

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