LOGAN — Utah State University Opera Theatre presents Ghost Quartet with music, lyrics, and book by Dave Malloy. Starring an exquisite quartet of Taylor Woolf, Patrice Densley, Gideon Benge, and Hayden Höglund, this haunting tale transcends 700 years of time, interweaving a story of love, loss, revenge, and heartache. Directed by Dallas Heaton, Ghost Quartet is presented in a way never before told with elaborate costumes and vignettes in an intimate setting at the Chase Fine Arts Center Black Box Theatre. This production far exceeded my expectations and was an exceptional night of music and storytelling.
Ghost Quartet is a circular story of Rose and Pearl told throughout multiple times and settings. Rose, played by Woolf, is the younger sister who falls in love with an Astronomer (played by Benge) and writes him poems about the stars. Double crossing Rose, the Astronomer published her poems in a journal under his own name and falls in love with Rose’s sister, Pearl (played by Densley). To get her revenge, Rose asks a Bear to maul the Astronomer and turn her sister into a raven. The lazy Bear (played by Höglund) asks Rose to collect four things for him: a pot of honey, one piece of stardust, one secret baptism, and a photo of a ghost.
Rose collects the items throughout time and multiple reincarnations of herself and her sister, the Bear, and the Astronomer. Each member of the quartet plays multiple parts throughout the show and quickly changes costumes as the storyline jumps between the 17th century fairy tale, 21st century New York City, 14th century Persia, 19th century Gothic England, and a 20th century Sarajevo pub. The play is full of meaning and symbolism that will leave one wanting to come back and see it again in hopes that they will be able to catch more and more each time. Almost like a live action murder mystery, I was thrilled and anticipating what was going to happen next and got caught up in the fanciful story telling.
Performed in the intimate Black Box Theatre, I was quickly in awe of the details to the setting and cabaret feeling of the theater. Scenic design and costume design by Dennis Hassan created a warm atmosphere by surrounding the theatre with large red draping curtains trimmed with gold fringe and eclectic lighting with multiple styles of large chandeliers and lanterns. Details of pillows and poufs, mismatching chairs, and rugs mixed in with pianos, a chaise lounge, a decorative bird cage, a globe and a telescope created an eclectic vibe setting the scene for an extraordinary show.
My companion and I were seated at a small bistro table and served appetizers and drinks and were treated to a delightful preshow song by Benge, “Having a Mental Breakdown” with audience participation and improv that was laugh-out-loud fun. Benge also played the Astronomer, the Driver, Monk, and Edgar Usher. His acting and singing were fun and foreboding easily portrayed the pain and heartbreak caused by his characters.
Woolf carried the ghostly theme through the night with her acting of the ill-fated Roxie and the part of Rose seeking revenge. Woolf played the roles of Rose, Dunyazad, Roxie, Rose Red and Starchild sincerely and naturally. Her solos in “Starchild” and “Hero” were beautiful and heartbreaking, claiming “I guess it’s time to let the dead be dead.”
Densley portrays Pearl, Lady Usher, Pearl White, Soldier, and Scheherazade during the course of the evening. As a powerful storyteller and vocalist Densley is a solid component of the Ghost Quartet. Her haunting portrayal of Scheherazade in Persia was ominous as she claims, “I was empty then, and I’m empty now, but it’s not the same at all.” Her beautiful and powerful voice was the peak of the show as she sang and screamed, “A GHOST!” in “The Photograph,” and died on the steps of the stage. Her spine-tingling performance was nothing shy of spectacular.
Högland not only performed as the Bear, the Pusher, the Fool and Sad Zaman, but also played the bass, ukulele, guitar and even the accordion. He truly was a talented musician and performer with all that he did throughout the night. Although this show was produced by the USU Opera Theatre, Ghost Quartet is a musical filled with a variety of genres of music from murder ballads, jazz music, doo-wop, country drinking songs, and Islamic folk. The talented artists seamlessly jumped from one style of music to the next. Thanks to a very talented live orchestra, the music was marvelous. Jeremy Adriano played the piano and percussion and also led the night with introductions to the show and intermission interludes. Megan Richards played the cello and the erhu, a Chinese two-stringed fiddle. Richards’s screeching whines on the cello sent chills through the spine as the story told tales of ghosts and murder.
Lighting design by Hannah Whorton set the mood seamlessly as the story got more and more intense and lighting increasingly ominous. Whorton’s use of twinkle lights strung across the ceiling were as breathtaking as the stars they depicted.
What made this production so neat was the close quarters of the theatre. The audience was not very big, and the cast walked throughout the room performing to audience members up close and even spooking them over their shoulders at times. At multiple times throughout the night, the cast passed around percussion instruments to the audience, bringing the audience even closer to the performance.
However, I was focusing on the storyline of “Wind and Rain” and then was distracted as percussion instruments were passed out and realized I missed an important part of what happened and had to look up the lyrics later to fill in the few stanzas that I missed. Although the plot is complicated, I feel that the scenic settings and costumes helped clarify what was going on.
Unfortunately, the production was too short, and I was sent to review Ghost Quartet on closing night. I strongly suggest anyone who learns that Ghost Quartet will be produced near them to jump at the chance to see it. I would also suggest theaters to think about adding this to their production line up. It would be perfect for a dinner and a show production and would appeal to all audiences.
Overall, Ghost Quartet was a huge success and changed all of my preconceived notions of what I expected from a night at an opera production. I was in awe of the musicians, performers, the set, and the entire production. Nothing compares to seeing this performed live and seeing all the pieces come together to tell such a fantastical tale. Heaton’s production of Ghost Quartet was one of my favorite shows that I have seen in a while and left me wishing I was a ghost and could go “Ooo-ooo-ooo all night long.”