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Duncan Sheik: A Troubadour Turns To Theater

There was The Who and Tommy. There was Tom Waits with The Black Rider. And Elton John's Aida. But when Duncan Sheik's sensitive crooning climbed the charts in the mid-1990s, you wouldn't have assumed he'd follow the rock-opera route.

Sheik's hit single "Barely Breathing" propelled him to fame back in 1996, when it spent 55 weeks on Billboard's Hot 100. But after touring for his second album in 1999, he grew increasingly dissatisfied with the pop princesses and boy bands he was competing with for airplay. He began to focus on other avenues for his music.

"So the music that I was doing really didn't have a lot of kinship with that other kind of pop music," Sheik says. "So while on the one hand, I was like, musical theater wasn't my wheelhouse either, at all — I was definitely ready to try something new, and different, and perhaps work in a different medium."

In recent years, Sheik's work as a composer has put him back in the public eye. His rock musical Spring Awakening earned him a whole new horde of devoted teenage fans — not to mention numerous Tony Awards.

Spring Awakening closed its Broadway run this month. But Sheik has another rock musical waiting in the wings — Whisper House. That show was set to premiere in a Delaware theater this year, but the run was cancelled because of finances before it even opened. So Sheik will release the music of Whisper House as a solo album — his first since 2006.

While attending the Sundance Film Festival, Sheik spoke with host Jacki Lyden from KPCW in Park City, Utah. "I just snowboarded off the mountain into the radio studio," he says.

The plot of Whisper House revolves around a boy growing up during World War II. His father has been killed in combat, and he's sent to live with his spinster aunt in a haunted lighthouse in Maine.

"I grew up on Hilton Head, S.C.," Sheik says. "And the logo of Hilton Head is this big red-and-white lighthouse that as a kid, I was running up and down all the time. And then also, when I was 10 or 11 years old, myself and my group of friends would go over to Daufuskie Island on little camping trips, and one or the other of our parents would tell these ghost stories, and try and completely freak us out. And so this idea of doing something with lighthouses and ghosts actually seemed very natural to me."

Hear the full interview with Duncan Sheik by clicking on the link at the top of the page, starting around 7 p.m. ET.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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