There were many different ways people could pay homage to the world’s most beloved haunted house this weekend – there were panels, YouTube videos, blog posts and meetups galore. But none of them were quite as inventive and unique as Captured Aural Phantasy Theatre’s productions of not one, but two of the Mansion’s stories. “Tales From The Haunted Mansion,” a recreation of the 1969 audio storybook featuring Ron Howard, and “Park After Dark,” an adaption of the one of the original concepts of the ride itself.
“Captured Aural Phantasy Theatre,” or as I call it in print CAPT for short, is a theater troupe in Los Angeles that brings the vintage art-form of the radio play to life with variety acts, humor and flair. Their use of unconventional spaces serves them well, as they perform monthly at El Cid in LA, and they bring their own modern twist to everything from gritty noir comics to spine-tingling horror tales of the golden age.
“Tales” was performed to packed houses on both days of ScareLA, a Halloween-themed convention in Los Angeles, CA. But I was invited to see a spooky double feature of two tales in North Hollywood a few days later, hosted by Ghost Hunters of Urban Los Angeles, (Or GHOULA, for short,) at Hallenbeck’s, also known as the North Hollywood General Store. Richard Carradine, co-founder of GHOULA, welcomed us to the cozy store that added to the ambiance of the evening by not only serving specifically-themed specials, (there was the delicious “Bowl of Blood,” that tasted suspiciously like rich tomato soup, and “The Wolfman,” a delectable deli sandwich, to name a few,) but also retaining a quaint, country store feel. By stepping inside to the small shop you felt transported to a simpler moment in time, when the community would gather together on a regular basis to catch up with one another and entertain themselves.
Hallenbeck’s was chosen for a very specific reason by Carradine, as the building and very room we were sitting in had once been a recording studio for the famous radio show, “The Lonesome Gal.” Jean King, a name now largely lost to history, recorded her show from the studio below her own apartment from 1947-1949. Her sultry whisper was insanely popular, especially among the male crowd, and even wore a mask to conceal her identity in any pictures taken of herself.
GHOULA chose this place not only for its radio history, but its paranormal history as well. It is said that there has been a great amount of activity in the building, especially in what was once her apartment, including phantom footfalls, voices, and even objects being moved by unseen hands. What would rouse her interest more than a radio play being performed in her old recording studio?
Enter CAPT, whose first offering of the night, “Park After Dark,” was both funny and inventive. With ghostly fish swimming in a sea monster’s gullet, to the frozen head of Walt Disney making an appearance, (fridge and all,) CAPT chilled and thrilled a packed house with its wit, eerie concept art, and even brought about an appearance by “The Lonesome Gal” herself, who treated us to a melancholy croon of “Grim Grinning Ghosts,” before fading away once again into obscurity.
Seeing as the storyline was something that pre-dated the actual ride we all know, it was quite a delight to hear this different angle on what was originally planned to be a walk-through attraction. You are invited to join the wedding party of Captain Gore and his lovely, lonesome bride, who were unable to complete their ceremony while alive and now continue to try and complete it in the afterlife. The Lonely Bride is a well-known character in the Haunted Mansion, but is also believed to have been derived a little from Ms. King and her radio show, tying everything in the evening in quite beautifully. “Bloody” wedding cake was served to the crowd at the story’s end, as it was originally intended to give guests a piece of wedding cake as they left the mansion, and the audience took a quick stretch for a the second half of the evening, “Tales of the Haunted Mansion.”
I must point out how much darker the original tone was, according to this first offering of the night. Not only did it clearly talk of murder in pretty graphic detail for a Disney ride, but even the outside facade of the mansion itself was initially thought to hint more at the creeps and terrors inside. Called “Bloodmere” originally, the mansion was given much more backstory involving the tragic history of Captain Gore, the pirate who owned it, and how after his bride discovered his piracy and confronted him, was choked to death by Gore in a fit of anger. Afterward, once it had settled in what he had done, the Captain then took his own life out of grief.
There were also plans to feature such iconic characters as Dracula, the Wolfman, Frankenstein and the like, but something tells me that was scrapped for copyright reasons. (Hello, Universal Classics!)
“Tales of the Haunted Mansion” was much more familiar, and was clearly geared at children. You see how the rougher, scarier edges of some of the original concepts for the ride had been smoothed out by the final version, making it much more palatable to both kids and jumpy adults alike. Quite a bit of the dialogue is familiar as well, as the story follows a teen couple through the mansion as guided by their “Ghost Host.” Although I did miss the fishbowl worn by one of the performers at ScareLA to depict Madame Leota, the crystal ball, I did enjoy the use of simple black velvet gloves to signify the raven character, who has been possessed by the spirit of an “Old Nag,” according to our host.
CAPT uses their transitory means to their advantage, making it part of the show. This pack of vintage “gypsy” performers add a little tongue-in-cheek humor to their shows, and you can tell that every last bit of it is performed with joy and the genuine need to entertain. The show fit perfectly into the rustic, old-time general store, complete with making use of the chairs and pots conveniently stored on various hooks from the ceiling. Not a seat was empty, and the spirits of the night did not leave a pot unrattled. Simple tricks were extremely effective, as there was a recurring “floating head” that interjected from time to time, and characters like “Harry the Arm” would occasionally try to drag off a stray actor for a little mid-show snack.
To be sure, GHOULA and CAPT hit the evening out of the park, and further solidified their places in the minds of Southern California’s paranormal enthusiasts and Disney enthusiasts alike. Their welcoming, warm demeanor could chase away the most icy of chills, and clearly both groups hold an attitude of “The More, The Merrier!” The corruptible mortal forms that partook in the evening were satisfied. And if there were a few ghostly spectators in the audience, I am sure they enjoyed a rare night of entertainment as well.
Check out Captured Aural Phantasy Theatre at The Official Website, and be sure to visit GHOULA at Their Official Blog to stay up-to-date on shows and ghost tours, respectively. Hallenbeck’s General Store is located at 5510 Cahuenga Blvd, North Hollywood, CA 91601.