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World Premiere of UNSILENT NIGHT at Next Act Theatre. Photo by Ross Zentner.
22 February 2023

New Capital City Show Shines Light on Stephen King, American Musicals

Mike Fischer, for World Premiere Wisconsin
New Capital City Show Shines Light on Stephen King, American Musicals Image

“Horror lit,” wrote Chicago Tribune arts columnist Christopher Borrelli in a recent column, “is very ALIVE! Some even say it’s experiencing a golden age of creativity, popularity and fresh blood.” “It’s relevance,” Borrelli continued, “is screaming.”

Cue the creepy music for Capital City Theatre’s entry in the World Premiere Wisconsin sweepstakes: Shining in Misery: A King Size Parody. With music by Andrew Abrams, lyrics by Mark-Eugene Garcia, and a book by Garcia and Colleen Duvall, it runs in the Overture Center’s Playhouse from February 23 to March 5.

“Horror is having a moment,” Abrams noted to me during a phone conversation just days before opening. “But you don’t see a lot of horror musicals.”

Capital City’s final production before the pandemic involved one of them: the musical Carrie, which channels the jagged and destructive insecurities of the lonely teen in Stephen King’s first novel.

Nearly 50 years, some 200 short stories, and 70-plus additional books later, King is still going strong, offering plenty of material for a parody of the sort Abrams and his co-creators have made.

“I was working three years ago on a production of Evil Dead,” Abrams recalled, referencing the cult musical that spoofs everything from H.P. Lovecraft to the teens-in-a-cabin genre. “I found myself wondering why nobody had ever done something similar with King, a beloved author with a mind-blowing range.”

Abrams ran the idea for such a parody by Duvall, a friend since high school whom Abrams described as a “Stephen King freak.” “I asked her what she thought about starting with a blend of The Shining and Misery, two of King’s best-known novels, and taking it from there. She thought it was a great idea and she ran with it.”

Something for Everyone

Along with lyricist Garcia, run Duvall most certainly did, tagging dozens of King novels and characters. Par for the course: characters in King’s sprawling multiverse regularly bleed from one book into others.

What results in Capital City’s new musical makes good on what the lyrics to an early song in the show promise: a tale “full of camp and a little kitsch” that simultaneously delivers Easter eggs galore for King fans.

While Abrams counts himself among those fans, he’s mindful that not everyone out there is.

“One of our biggest worries with a show that is parodying Stephen King was about people who know nothing about Stephen King,” Abrams said. “My Mom, for example, hates horror because she thinks it’s scary. We wanted to do a show that would appeal to both King fans and musical theater fans who won’t necessarily get the Stephen King references.”

Never fear, dear readers. Among the ways Capital City’s script shines is its numerous send-ups of American musicals; there are almost as many Easter eggs here involving musicals ranging from West Side Story to Hamilton as there are references to beasts and clowns, vampires and demons, stalking fans and haunted hotels, red balloons and roque mallets.

Suffice it to say that after seeing Shining in Misery, you’ll never see the Tony who falls for Maria in quite the same way. And regardless of whether you’re a King fan, you may never laugh so hard at what’s ostensibly horrific. Sitting alone at my kitchen table late one night while reading the script, I sure did.

Director & Choreographer Donald Garverick and Evan Lange (Musical Director). Photos courtesy of Capital City Theatre.

An Homage to the King

While sending up the American musical alongside America’s master of horror will broaden the appeal of Shining, there’s nothing gratuitous about splicing them together.

In describing Stephen King as “Walt Disney’s evil twin,” the late great critic John Leonard was onto something: King’s nightmarish dreamscapes are the obverse side of the fantastical fairy tales and pie-in-the sky optimism taking center stage in so many American musicals. Placing horror and American musicals in counterpoint helps us hear new sounds from each.

Abrams wanted these sounds to resonate within a musically serious score, which will be played by a seven-piece band and which even features a dream ballet (I refuse to say more).

“The music is more complex than what one ordinarily gets in a parody,” Abrams said. “There’s a lot of ensemble work, and there’s motifs strung through the score.” I told Abrams his description suggested leitmotifs in Wagner – another composer who wasn’t shy about plumbing nightmares to create mythic folklore.

“That’s exactly right,” Abrams replied, while praising music director Evan Lange’s orchestrations of the score.

“Evan punched up both the horror and musical references, in ways that have really added to my score,” Abrams enthused.

Abrams exuded similar enthusiasm for Capital City’s eight-actor cast and director/choreographer Donald Garverick.

“He’s functioned almost like a dramaturg for the past 6-8 months,” Abrams marveled of Garverick, noting how Garverick-inspired additions made before and during rehearsal have sharpened the story.

Playing on the World Wisconsin Stage

Abrams freely acknowledges that this story came into focus sooner than it otherwise might have because it’s being offered as part of the World Premiere Wisconsin festival. It will be this still-young company’s first fully staged world premiere.

“It helped the creators move faster,” Abrams said. “World Premiere Wisconsin gave us exactly the push we needed to make good on part of who we are as a company.

“As someone who has written musicals and had them done, it was important to me as one of the founders of this company that we make a commitment to new work,” Abrams continued.

“But it’s a tough sell when you’re a new company and people don’t know you are. We’ve been waiting for the right moment to take such a gamble, and this is it. It’s an amazing opportunity.”

Meet Mike

Mike Fischer wrote theater and book reviews for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel for fifteen years, serving as chief theater critic from 2009-18. A member of the Advisory Company of Artists for Forward Theater Company in Madison, he also co-hosts Theater Forward, a bimonthly podcast. You can reach him directly at

Mike’s work as WPW’s Festival Reporter is made possible through the sponsorship of the United Performing Arts Fund (UPAF). Learn more: