Performer Brandon Wilhelm begins Dave Malloy's Ghost Quartet with the note that it's best experienced with an open mind. That's a sly nod to the whiskey being served onstage before the show, but also a warning for audiences expecting a traditional, linear musical.
This song cycle is anything but straightforward, and those who are open to an unconventional and immersive experience are in for theatrical journey unlike any they've taken before. That is, unless they attended the national tour that came through Dallas in 2016 (starring Malloy himself and the original cast).
But even if you're familiar with this winding exploration of love, death, friendship, and whiskey, Imprint Theatreworks' production is its own animal. Director Ashley H. White has deftly carved a path through Malloy's wild forest of experimental music and tangled storytelling, giving the audience a tangible lifeline to clutch onto (even when surrounded by total darkness, in the truly impressive staging of one particular scene).
Seated around the Bath House Cultural Center's intimate stage on a mismatch of couches, armchairs, and floor pillows, the audience is as much a part of the show as the performers (Billy Betsill's cozy scenic design is greatly enhanced by Lori Honeycutt's luminous lighting). You might be tasked with playing various instruments (don't worry, even beginners can handle this) or throwing back shots of whiskey, both of which only add to the jovial atmosphere.
Wilhelm, Benjamin Brown, Mindy Bell, and Devin Berg are having just as good a time, which is all the more impressive considering everything they're juggling. Not only do they sing Malloy's intricate score with ease but they play it that way, too, on a melange of instruments and with a skill that's often breathtaking (kudos to music director Adam C. Wright, who's not seen but whose guidance is felt throughout).
Each performer gets his or her own show-stopping moment, though Berg's self-accompanied "Hero" is truly heart-wrenching. For the musical theater purists, it's a traditional 11 o'clock number; for pop music fans, it's a Sara Bareilles-esque ballad. But no matter which camp you fall into, it's a lovely moment of genuine melodic magic.
Imprint Theatreworks' production of Ghost Quartet runs through June 15 at the Bath House Cultural Center.