Ghost Quartet the Musical - Synopsis

Musical by Dave Malloy (2014)
Ghost Quartet the musical - Synopsis

The show tells four interwoven stories: "a warped fairy tale about two sisters, a treehouse astronomer and a lazy evil bear; a retelling of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Fall of the House of Usher"; a purgatorial intermezzo about Scheherazade and the ghost of Thelonious Monk; and a contemporary fable about a subway murder." The story does not take place in chronological order.

The musical begins by introducing the story and four main characters ("I Don't Know Lyrics"). Rose, a young woman, visits a camera shop to purchase a new camera, having broken and lost her old one. ("The Camera Shop Lyrics") There, the owner of the shop tells her a story about her own great-grandmother, whose name was also Rose. She shows Rose a fiddle made from the breastbone of her great-aunt, Pearl. She then tells Rose the story of the two sisters, Rose and Pearl, and an astronomer who lived in a treehouse. The story tells of Rose, who fell in love with the astronomer. She looked through his telescope and wrote in a poem everything she saw. The astronomer, however, stole her writings and published them in his own name, and Rose came to hate him. Soon after, Pearl and the astronomer fell in love, and Rose, furious, asked a bear to kill the astronomer and turn her sister into a crow. In return, the bear asked for one pot of honey, one piece of stardust, one secret baptism, and a photo of a ghost. According to the camera shop owner, Rose stole the honey from a soldier, the stardust from an ancient, and took a child from its teenage mother and baptised her in the sea.

The scene changes and we hear the baptised child, known simply as the "starchild", reflect on being blessed by a stranger and the impact it had on her life ("Starchild Lyrics"). The scene changes once more to a subway station ("Subway Lyrics"), with four characters - the driver, the victim, the pusher and the photographer. The victim is pushed in front of the train.

In 1873, the Usher family is at the side of their seventeen year old daughter, Roxie ("Usher, Part 1 Lyrics"). Roxie's child, the starchild, was stolen from her and as a result, Roxie has fallen deathly sick. The scene changes again and a character known as "the soldier" reflects on her readiness for death ("Soldier & Rose Lyrics"). Rose arrives and seduces the soldier in order to take her honey to give to the bear.

We next hear Rose making a deal to be transformed into a ghost in order to find all four items to give to the bear ("Any Kind of Dead Person Lyrics"). The astronomer introduces his character ("The Astronomer Lyrics"). In the House of Usher, Roxie's father, Edgar, calls a family meeting and discusses Roxie's supposed imaginary friend - her sister, Rose, who died when Roxie was a baby ("Family Meeting Lyrics"). Roxie tells her parents that Rose has tried to convince her to die to join her in heaven, and she eventually becomes frustrated with her parents and shouts at them to "have another f***ing drink, and shut the f*** up". The four singers, as no particular characters, pay tribute about four different brands of whiskey ("Four Friends Lyrics").

Edgar Usher encourages his son, known as "the fool", to leave him because he is a bad influence, and the fool makes plans to leave his family and make his own way in the world ("Fathers & Sons Lyrics"). Roxie cries out for her brother, her sister, and her daughter ("Usher, Part 2 Lyrics"). After Edgar tells her that her daughter is gone, Roxie dies. Lady Usher, who is losing herself to madness, vows to lock her daughter's corpse in the vault underneath her bedroom for a fortnight.

The next scene takes place in the astronomer's treehouse. Rose looks through his telescope and he writes down everything she sees. She professes her love for him, and he does the same. Later, Pearl and the astronomer profess their love for each other. ("The Telescope Lyrics")

Rose is next seen hunting down Scheherazade, an ancient storyteller who lives in a fourteenth-century Persian palace with her husband, Shah Zaman. Scheherazade tells Rose she reminds her of her sister, Dunyazad. Rose asks for a piece of stardust, and Scheherazade offers it to her, but tells her the story of her life ("Tango Dancer Lyrics"). The scene reverts to when Dunyazad was alive, where her older sister is telling her the story of Roxie's child being stolen ("Monk Lyrics"). They discuss the idea of the ghost of Thelonius Monk living behind a hidden door. Scheherazade asks Dunyazad if she remembers being anything other than her sister, which she doesn't.

In the Usher household, a young Roxie asks her mother to read her Arabian Nights ("Lights Out Lyrics"). The story of how Rose lost her camera is explained - she took a photograph of the victim on the subway instead of saving her ("The Photograph Lyrics").

In the next song, Scheherazade finishes a story about Rose at the camera shop and talks with Shah Zaman, who plans to kill her when she runs out of stories ("Bad Men Lyrics"). Meanwhile, Rose finds out about Pearl and the astronomer's affair and threatens the astronomer, who denies ever having a relationship with her sister. After retrieving the four items the bear asked for, she brings them to him. The bear tells her he never planned on doing what she asked, and just wanted the honey.

In the House of Usher, Lady Usher hears Roxie awaken from the dead, and her husband reads her stories to soothe her ("Usher, Part 3 Lyrics"). He tells her the story of the subway, but before he can finish, Roxie breaks into the room and attacks her mother, killing her. Meanwhile, on the subway, Pearl (the victim) plays a game on her phone before she is pushed onto the track. Rose has to make a split second decision - to save her sister, or to take the photo to give to the bear. She takes the photo, and Pearl is killed. The four ghosts sing and make a vow to forgive themselves for their mistakes ("Prayer Lyrics").

Rose realises she has made a mistake in letting her sister die ("Hero Lyrics"). It is revealed that there are only four ghosts, and the different characters have all been the same four people: Rose was Roxie, the starchild and Dunyazad; Pearl was Lady Usher, the camera shop owner, Scheherezade, and the soldier; the astronomer was Edgar Usher and the subway driver; and the bear was the pusher, the fool, and Shah Zaman. Rose talks with the subway driver, who doesn't remember being the astronomer. They have two daughters together ("Midnight Lyrics").

The four ghosts then tell the story of how Rose took revenge on her sister and how Pearl's breastbone was turned into a fiddle ("The Wind & Rain Lyrics").

Album Songs: Ghost Quartet the Musical Lyrics
Synopsis to Ghost Quartet the musical