Story: Banker Sam Wheat and his girlfriend Molly Jenson, a potter, have moved into an old brownstone in Brooklyn to renovate it and make it their home. Meanwhile, at work Sam notices some major and troubling discrepancies in some accounts he’s managing, and confides the problem to his friend and colleague Carl.
While walking back from a restaurant one night, Sam and Molly are confronted by a thief who demands Sam’s wallet. When Sam fights back, he is shot and killed. At first, Sam doesn’t know what has happened, but soon he learns that he is dead and has become a ghost who is unable to communicate with Molly.
When Sam sees the same thief later burglarize Molly’s apartment, he learns that the assault on the streets wasn't random but had been planned. Fearing for Molly’s safety, Sam frantically searches for a way to reach her, eventually stumbling upon a fake medium named Oda Mae Brown. Improbably, Oda Mae learns that she really can communicate with ghosts, and reluctantly agrees to help Sam in his quest to rescue Molly from further harm.
Highlights: Ghost was nominated for five Academy Awards in 1990, including Best Picture, winning Oscars for Bruce Joel Rubin for Best Original Screenplay and for Whoopi Goldberg for Best Supporting Actress as Oda Mae Brown. Starring Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore, it was the top box-office hit of that year.
In 2011, Rubin adapted his screenplay into a musical book, adding some lyrics as well. With music composed by Dave Stewart (of Eurythmics fame) and Glen Ballard, who also contributed additional lyrics, Ghost the Musical opened in London in 2011 and subsequently opened on Broadway in 2012. Both of those productions now have closed, but national tours are underway both in the United Kingdom and in the United States.
Thanks to Stewart’s pulsating sound, some smart choreography and stark visual graphics and special effects that enhance the production, Ghost the Musical is an entertaining and faithful adaptation of the movie that returned The Righteous Brothers’ 1965 standard, Unchained Melody, to widespread popularity.
Other Info: Ghost the Musical, which plays through March 30, marks the longest-running show in the brief history of the Peabody Opera House, the rejuvenated, sparkling reincarnation of the old Kiel Opera House. A large crowd on opening night enjoyed the familiar story, which has its share of dated and stereotypical elements, such as the jive-talking Oda Mae and the ‘best friend’ who isn’t quite who he pretends to be.
Still, director Matthew Warchus smartly keeps the pace brisk to ward off any tedium that might result from focusing on the story’s shortcomings. Instead, Stewart’s exhilarating rock score is reminiscent of the slick style that made the Eurythmics so appealing in their day (well, that and the soaring vocals of Annie Lennox).
Addtionally, there’s consistently smart and persuasive choreography by Ashley Wallen that puts the show’s talented dancers through bold, striking moves, such as depicting the jazzed-up pulse of the work day on the streets and in the offices of New York City. Music director Matthew Smedal and the production’s orchestra keep the tempo lively and energetic.
Singing by the cast is rather pedestrian, whether on ballads or the more energized numbers. The players, though, effectively convey the thoughts and emotions of their characters, especially the heartfelt depiction by Steven Grant Douglas as Sam and a fine turn by understudy Andrea Rouch, who played Molly on Tuesday night, a role usually played by Katie Postotnik.
Robby Haltiwanger is suitably sleazy as the villainous Carl, while Carla Stewart gained the lion’s share of applause for her over-the-top rendition of the already exaggerated character of Oda Mae.
Fernando Contreras is effectively scary as the menacing thief, Willie Lopez, and Brandon Curry is simply sensational as the acrobatic, intimidating Subway Ghost who ultimately teaches Sam how to levitate objects. Evette Marie White and Lydia Warr are humorous as a pair of Oda Mae’s slick assistants.
The true stars of the show, however, in addition to the choreography are the special effects and illusions orchestrated by Paul Kieve, who convinces us that some of these performers are moving through the air or disappearing into wisps of smoke. Eye-catching, too, are Jon Driscoll’s arresting video and projection designs that blend the ‘real’ world with its ‘spiritual’ counterpart.
Bobby Aitken’s sound design conveys the noise of a big city, Hugh Vanstone’s lighting moves between blinding and dramatically dim, and associate costume designer Daryl Stone dresses the 9-to-5 crowd in smart suits and Oda Mae in suitably garish attire to match her flamboyant personality.
Fans of the film likely will find Ghost the Musical a suitable theatrical representation of the movie’s romantic and dramatic elements, while those of us with just a fleeting memory of the flick come away impressed with the music and dancing.
Musical: Ghost the Musical
Company: Touring Company
Venue: Peabody Opera House, 14th and Market Streets
Dates: Through March 30
Tickets: $22-$92; contact 1-800-745-3000 or ticketmaster.com
Rating: A 4 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of Joan Marcus