Encore Meets: Dave Malloy – Writer Of Ghost Quartet

Dave Malloy. Photo: Corner Shop PR
Dave Malloy. Photo: Corner Shop PR

Encore Meets Dave Malloy, the writer of Ghost Quartet, which makes its UK premiere at London’s Boulevard Theatre.

We sat down with three-time Tony award-winning composer, lyricist, actor and writer Dave Malloy. We found out more about his up and coming show Ghost Quartet which will be making its UK premiere at London’s new Boulevard Theatre.

How does it feel to bring Ghost Quartet to London?

Dave Malloy: “Oh it’s been such a treat to have both this and Preludes premiering in London back to back. You know, I’ve been coming here off and on for the last fifteen / twenty years so it’s been such a treat to just finally see the work being done here and through British eyes, seeing the pieces reinterpreted with directors and designers and casts from England has been fantastic.”

Tell us more about the show?

Dave Malloy: “Sure, so it’s Ghost Quartet, it’s basically a live performance of a concept album about ghosts so it’s a very music-driven piece and you kind of follow these four different characters through four different life times and timelines and you kind of see these four different characters, you know, spanning these four disparate stories that are seven centuries apart and are kind of reincarnated versions of themselves. Yeah, they’re basically singing songs about ghosts and about regret and guilt and all those kinds of things.”

What was the initial inspiration for this show and tell us more about the writing process?

Dave Malloy: “Yeah, this piece was unusual for me in that it was very much written with the original cast in mind. Literally, the four of us are just old friends and we had done a bunch of shows together in different capacities, never the four of us at the same time. The original two women – Brittain Ashford and Gelsey Bell had been in my show Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet and they were like with it from the very very beginning of the off-broadway run and they both had kind of smaller parts in that show and as that show went on they came to be closer friends of mine and I was just so stunned by both of their voices so I really wanted to write a piece featuring the two of them as like two of my favourite vocalists in New York. At the same time one of the cello players in The Great Comet this guy Brent Arnold, we also just became pals with him. And so literally the four of us were just hanging out playing the board game Risk one night and I just kind of looked around the table at these three other incredible musicians and I was like Aghhh, the four of us should do a show! And, looking at all of our individual music – like the three of them are amazing singer song writers as well and all our music seems to share a sort of like surreal melancholy and so it felt like ghost stories was the perfect idiom for us. So we really just started with ghosts and the four of us – so Ghost Quartet – we had the title before anything. And from there I just kind of went off and I just started thinking about particularly Brittain and Gelsey voices and what kind of stories would really show of their voices, so started looking at ghost stories that involved two women in one way or another and so that bought me to Edgar Allen Poe’s House of Usher and probably like some old Twilight Zone episodes that I used to love. I was such a fantasy, sci-fi, horror genre nut as a kid and so it was fun for me to dive back into my past and digest some of that stuff and use it as inspiration.”

When did musical theatre first enter your life?

Dave Malloy: “It’s weird because like I watched musicals as a kid like that was a real family tradition when I was growing up. We would watch you know, The Music Man and My Fair Lady and West Side Story – those were in constant rotation in my home growing up. Singing those songs and knowing about musical theatre and then I did some musicals in high school, I was mostly in the band playing piano. But then when I went off to college I was a double major in Music Composition and English Literature, those were my two loves – I loved writing music and I loved literature and stories and narrative. But I wasn’t doing musical theatre at that point, like I hadn’t connected the dots that those two things, like their home together is musical theatre. So, I kind of went through college not thinking about that and it was only after college, I was working at a record store and a friend, he had written a play, asked me to play piano in the play so form there I did that one show and then the director asked me to do her next show and I just found myself in the theatre world. Mostly at first I was just music directing and sound designing, then I wrote a song, then I wrote two songs, then I wrote three songs and then little by little like five years later I’d suddenly written a musical and I was like oh, I guess musical theatre is what I actually really love and it was very late for me. Like, I went through college and it wasn’t till 12 years ago that I started to get into musical theatre.”

What advice to do you have for people who would like to get into the industry, in particular, writing/composing?

Dave Malloy: “Oh god, I would say the biggest thing is just listen to as much as possible and listen to as much diverse music as possible like, I talk to lots of young composers that feel like they’re stuck in a rut with like “all my songs have the same four chords” and then I ask them what they’re listening to and all those songs have the same four chords. You should listen to Afrobeat music, there’s so many other genres out there. And I think particularly musical theatre, the genre has become kind of homogenised, there’s a very particular musical theatre sound which I don’t think needs to happen like there’s so many styles of music that you can draw from that can tell stories. I really like to pull from different idioms and different genres.”

What can the audience expect from Ghost Quartet?

Dave Malloy:  “I don’t know what I’ll expect! I mean it’s so interesting for me having these shows put in other hands and I trust these hands. I was such a fan of Sweeney Todd when I saw it in New York and so I have such trust in this team. So I can’t wait to see what they do with it and what surprised they have instore for me. So I mean I know it’ll be an evening of creepy music, and fun music, and sad music and all the different things that ghost stories can evoke.”

Ghost Quartet is at the Boulevard Theatre from 24 October to 4 January. 


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