Sheik & Jarrow's Whisper House Musical Gets Reading With Weigert, Gumley, Poe

News   Sheik & Jarrow's Whisper House Musical Gets Reading With Weigert, Gumley, Poe
 
Whisper House, the new haunted-lighthouse musical by librettist Kyle Jarrow and Tony Award-winning composer Duncan Sheik, gets a 29-hour workshop in Manhattan, culminating in private presentations in May 2-3.
Duncan Sheik
Duncan Sheik Photo by Aubrey Reuben

The project is commissioned by Stamford Center for the Arts (SCA) in Stamford, CT, toward a possible full production there this October.

The reading will feature Robin Weigert (Broadway's Noises Off, HBO's "Deadwood"), Matthew Gumley, Arthur Acuña, Dan Bittner and an actor to be named. Playing the ghosts (who are also the lead singers and musicians) are popular indie rockers David Poe and Holly Brook.

The reading comes a year after an earlier formative, casual 2007 reading in Manhattan, in which Sheik himself strummed guitar. Sheik contributes music and lyrics to the show; Jarrow is the librettist and co-lyricist.

Keith Powell — associate artistic director at SCA and founder of Delaware's Contemporary Stage Company — directs the project. He brought the idea of the show to Sheik. The musical was inspired by a day trip Powell took in Maine a few years ago, when he was acting in New England. He toured some local lighthouses and heard ghost stories about the dwellings.

"I called Duncan Sheik and said, 'I don't know exactly what I want to do with you, but I know I want it to include ghosts and lighthouses,'" Powell said. The show focuses on a boy (Gumley) who, after his father dies in World War II, lives with his aunt (Weigert) in a remote, haunted lighthouse in New England. The negative, darkly comic ghosts there tell him that the Japanese lighthouse keeper (played by Acuña) is an enemy spy.

Sheik is planning to release songs he wrote for Whisper House as his next album. "This will not be a cast album, but a personal album by Duncan," Powell told Playbill.com. Powell will direct the album's animated music video, "Earthbound, Starlight," which Powell called "a prequel to the events of the play."

Visually, "the entire production will be very Edward Gorey-esque. Stark and dark and bare," Powell said, adding that the music serves the story in an unconventional way, "almost like a soundtrack."

In spring 2007 Sheik described Whisper House this way: "Basically, it's [about] a young boy [whose] father's killed in World War II, and the mother kind of has gone crazy, so he's sent to live with his aunt on the coast of Connecticut. She lives in a lighthouse. And the ghosts [are] the embodiments of all his fears but also all of his desires and his confused way of making his way in this world, having lost his parents and living in this remote place that feels very haunted. I would leave it to the audience as to whether the ghosts are real or a projection of his own making. There's a little bit of ambiguity there.

"They kind of function a little bit as a Greek chorus, if you will," Sheik said. "They're on stage. They're part of the play, but they're also the band, and they sing these songs that are in some way commentary on what's going on."

Sheik (with Steven Sater) won the 2007 Tony Award for Best Score for Spring Awakening. The musical also won Tonys for Best Musical, Best Book (to Sater), Best Direction (Musical) and more.

Jarrow penned book, music and lyrics to the Obie Award-winning A Very Merry Unauthorized Children's Scientology Pageant. He also penned the music and lyrics to the recent well-reviewed Off-Broadway indie-rock musical Hostage Song.

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Stamford Center for the Performing Arts, the Connecticut organization that presents and produces at two commuter-friendly venues just north of New York City, commissioned the project after Powell brought the project to the attention of Stamford's executive director Kenneth A. Wesler.

The musical would be part of SCA's refreshed effort to establish itself as a resident Equity theatre, with an identity of producing new works that you can't necessarily see in New York City.

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