‘Haunted Boy: A Rock Opera’ chronicles Md. family who inspired ‘The Exorcist’

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews 'Haunted Boy: A Rock Opera' (Part 1)

In 1949, The Washington Post reported that a Catholic priest performed an exorcism on a 14-year-old boy from Mount Rainier, Maryland, due to possession by the devil, a story that inspired William Peter Blatty to write the 1971 book and 1973 movie, “The Exorcist.”

Now, Joe’s Movement Emporium — in Mount Rainier — is performing its own stage adaptation, “The Haunted Boy: A Rock Opera,” this Friday at 7 p.m., Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 5 p.m.

This version takes its cues from Mark Opsasnick’s 2006 book, “The Real Story Behind The Exorcist,” which insists that the family actually lived in nearby Cottage City.

“This young man who was about to turn 14 really started to have this breakdown, displaying behaviors that were scary to the family,” creator Tom Liddle told WTOP. “The family over time decided to put him through the Catholic rite of exorcism, as well as take him to see psychologists, which were very different back then.”

Liddle said he didn’t want to write a traditional biography of the boy, named Roland, but used his family to craft a new narrative.

“What was going on with the boy? What did it look like? What did it sound like at school? What did it look like to friends and neighbors? What did the mother feel like when she was taking him to the psychologist?”

While there are some scary elements to the show, it’s mostly a rock opera. The two-act show features 21 songs from 10 artists at Joe’s Movement Emporium.

“We ended up calling it a rock opera because it is not a piece of music theater; there is no acting in between songs,” Liddle said. “One songs is called ‘Head Spinning,’ it’s a big rocker, the first entry of the boy’s thoughts, how he’s feeling, so it’s kind of an angsty rock ‘n’ roll song. We have one called ‘The Devil Ain’t The Half Of It’ — that’s our psychologist.”

After workshopping it, Liddle hopes the local production catches on in other towns.

“We think it might have some legs to maybe present it in some other towns … but because it’s local musicians and a local story, we wanted to do it in a local venue,” Liddle said.

Friday’s show is followed by an afterparty at DC Brau, one of the sponsors of the show along with the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission.

Just don’t drink too much or your head will be spinning.

Find more ticket information here.

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews 'Haunted Boy: A Rock Opera' (Part 2)

Listen to our full conversation here.

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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