Marv Ross’ “The Ghosts of Celilo,” is described by Oregonian reporter Marty Hughley as “an innovative and moving work of musical theater.”
The play, which chronicles the loss of Celilo Falls after The Dalles Dam roared into existence in 1957, is coming back to Portland this year after debuting there in 2007.
Several years ago, a Native American elder suggested that a ghost must have gotten ahold of Ross and was compelling him to tell a story about the loss of Celilo Falls and the way of life centered there. Ross is best known as the songwriter and guitarist for Quarterflash, a Portland pop band that scored platinum records in the 1980s, and the guiding force behind folk-music favorites the Trail Band. But beginning in the 1990s, he spent a decade obsessively developing what would become “The Ghosts of Celilo,” an innovative and moving work of musical theater that premiered in September 2007 at the Newmark Theatre.
But then, Ross says, a familiar feeling returned.
“During rehearsals, it started crawling up the back of my neck and now it’s got me by both ears again.”
This ghost brings with it a particular anxiety. There are the usual worries about artistic quality and execution (and musicals, believe it or not, are about as complex and tricky as it gets on those counts). But Ross, though he early on enlisted Native American collaborators on the project, also feels an outsider’s burden of responsibility to the subject’s cultural sensitivity.