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BWW Interview: Duncan Sheik Teases His Eerie New Musical, WHISPER HOUSE

Whisper House runs through February 6th at 59E59.

BWW Interview: Duncan Sheik Teases His Eerie New Musical,  WHISPER HOUSE

Now at 59e59, fans of Spring Awakening and American Psycho are being treated to another show with music by famed singer-songwriter and composer Duncan Sheik -

The eerie ghost story, Whisper House.

We had a chance to catch up with Sheik before the show opened to ask him about creating a new musical and opening it during a pandemic - having been forced to stop rehearsals in 2020 due to COVID-19. Check out our interview below.

Whisper House is written by Grammy and Tony winner Sheik (Spring Awakening, American Psycho) and Tony-nominated and Obie winner Kyle Jarrow (Spongebob Squarepants, The Broadway Musical; The Wildness), and directed by Steve Cosson (Paul Swan is Dead, Gone). It is being produced by The Civilians, for which Cosson serves as Artistic Director.


What is Whisper House about?

Kyle [Jarrow] had this idea of writing a story set in World War II in a lighthouse in Maine. There's this young boy whose father is killed in the war, and his mother is subsequently sent to a sanitarium. He ends up with his eccentric aunt, who runs a lighthouse... and there's this kind of mysterious Japanese guy who works for her. Because this guy, Yasuhiro, is Japanese, he's under great suspicion by the community.

I guess you could say there's a political angle to the story, but it's more about people's inability to communicate with each other and the kind of trouble that that can cause.

How did writing Whisper House come about?

It was right after Spring Awakening opened on Broadway. [Jarrow] and I were brought together by a mutual friend. There was just this general idea of doing a ghost story musical just because we thought it was unique. We wrote it over the course of 2008 into 2009. Initially, I recorded [an album] of it, and that came out on Sony [in late 2009]. And then we did a production of it at The Old Globe in San Diego in 2010.

Not much happened with the show for another seven years. And then there was a production in London in 2017 that was also pretty cool, but maybe wasn't exactly the vision that we hoped for. And finally, Steve Cosson and The Civilians started working on it.

How did you approach writing the music to this show?

At the time I wrote Whisper House, I was still sort of in this zone of alternative rock, for lack of a better word. Even though [Whisper House] is set in World War II - and so the ghost characters are from the 19-teens - the music is still pretty much completely contemporary. Simon Hale did these cool brass and woodwind arrangements that give it a mid-century pop music feeling. It's pretty contemporary and mostly alternative rock and folk.

You've partnered with Kyle Jarrow before, including writing your forthcoming show Noir together. What is it like collaborating with him?

He's just a very smart guy, but he's the nicest collaborator in the world... he's a real joy to work with. And he comes up with smart ideas. Working with writing partners can be very fraught, but one of the nice things about Kyle is that that just never happens. This was the first show that we worked on together. We subsequently did an Internet TV series together. And then we wrote Noir over the past two years. That's going to have its premier in Houston this summer. We've had a really great working relationship.

It's been a tough road getting shows back up and running during the pandemic. Have you faced many challenges with Whisper House?

Everyone has... They've been real troopers. They lost a week of rehearsal because there were some issues with people getting COVID, but they managed to jump back in and get back on track. Hopefully they can sort of keep on track. It's a problem. I was just in London for Spring Awakening over there. They also had to shut down for a week; all the theaters were shutting down over there. So, it's just like really walking on eggshells and crossing our fingers.

We recently celebrated the 15th anniversary of Spring Awakening in November. What was it like bringing the cast back together and revisiting the show?

Well, it was a great experience this fall, getting back together - getting the band back together- so to speak... And there was that weird sense of yeah, it was 15 years ago, but it's like we never left, on some level. And so, it was all natural and really fun. It came together seamlessly. And so, I'm just really happy that Lauren [Pritchard] and Jonathan Groff decided to put it together.

A documentary was shot about it. It's coming out on HBO sometime in the spring.


Whisper House runs through February 6th at 59E59. Visit www.59e59.org for more information and to purchase tickets.



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