Duncan Sheik is in good spirits over new ghost story

by Robert Kahn

Newsday (MCT)

13 March 2009


With Broadway’s “Spring Awakening,” Duncan Sheik transformed himself from lite-rock crooner (“Barely Breathing”) to Tony-winning composer. He’s not done yet _ Sheik’s new concept disc, “Whisper House,” a World War II-era ghost story, could be headed to Broadway, too.

Sheik spoke to Newsday by phone before a performance in Minneapolis.

Q. Curiously, the ghost tale in “Whisper House” begins with one of the supporting actors from “30 Rock,” Keith Powell (“Toofer”) ...

A. (Laughing) Keith approached me a few years ago, when he was a very young artistic director of a theater company in Delaware, and he said: “I want to do a show with you that involves ghosts and lighthouses.” I said, “Sounds great. A little vague, but cool.” Keith enlisted Kyle Jarrow (“A Very Merry Unauthorized Children’s Scientology Pageant”) to write a book for his ghost story idea and then we all went to Charleston, S.C., on a writing retreat.

Q. Like “Spring Awakening,” “Whisper House” deals with death, but in this case it’s a young boy mourning his father in a remote Maine lighthouse.

A. It deals with the death of people close to you, and how a young person copes with that reality, but it shouldn’t be remotely depressing. The ghosts are whimsically benevolent. ... In my vision of it, they’re dressed up in these over-the-top fancy dress Halloween costumes… .

Q. ... the costumes on the liner notes? They look like Charles Addams drawings.

A. Yeah, there’s an Addams-Edward Gorey-Edgar Allan Poe-Gothic thing going on. The journey in this boy’s life is that he realizes that the things he does and the actions he takes have consequences. The thematic underpinning has to do with fear and the way fear closes down your options in life. The ghosts are singing these songs to challenge him to come to that realization.

Q. It’ll become a stage show?

A. It looks like we’re doing it at the Old Globe theater in San Diego in January 2010.

Q. Aside from working with ghosts, you’re in business with a former witch. Your musical “Nero (Another Golden Rome)” had a workshop this summer at Vassar College with Idina Menzel and “Spring Awakening” ingenue Lea Michelle.

A. My suspicion is that “Nero” is going to happen over in the U.K. before it happens in the States ... We’re really hoping Idina comes along for the ride.

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