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Theater review by David Cote
[Note: This review is for the version of Ghost Quartet that played at the Bushwick Starr in 2014. In 2015, the show returned for a run of performances at the McKittrick Hotel. New York Theatre Workshop has brought it back for an encore run in 2017.]
Dave Malloy’s theater songs make you blue like the sky: sad but high. Listening to his brand of emo-pop regret laced with cosmic hope, it’s like you’re watching a spectacular sunrise after a night of whiskey and lame flirting. Which is what might actually happen to you with his semistaged concept album, Ghost Quartet. First, they pass out free Jack Daniel’s. Second, they invite you to join them at a Bushwick bar after four “sides” and 23 songs that weave a drunken path through a forest of cultural fragments (Scheherazade, Poe and the 2012 New York Post photo of a man about to be killed by a subway train). There’s not a linear story to follow, but the material coheres on a rich, intuitive level.
Far less theatrical and character-based than Malloy’s Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812, this is an experiment in mood and evanescence, a chance to get inside the singer-songwriter’s head and savor the superb musicianship of his collaborators: elvish art-song soprano Gelsey Bell, smoky retro crooner Brittain Ashford and Brent Arnold (on cello, dulcimer and erhu). They turn the Bushwick Starr into a cozy den of antique lamps and Persian rugs, plunged into darkness and rescued by pinpricks of light. Maybe like me, you’ll want to make it your regular haunt.—David Cote
Bushwick Starr (see Off-Off Broadway). Music and lyrics by Dave Malloy. Directed by Annie Tippe. With Brent Arnold, Brittain Ashford, Gelsey Bell, Dave Malloy. Running time: 1hr 40mins. No intermission.
Follow David Cote on Twitter: @davidcote