'Ghost: The Musical' Brings High-Tech Wonder to Familiar Story
"Ghost: The Musical" is at the Wharton Center through Sunday, December 15th.
The 1990 film "Ghost" is remembered for many things: the romantic strains of "Unchained Melody" in the backdrop of a pretty hot scene involving a pottery wheel; the hilarious spiritual adviser Oda Mae Brown, a character that earned Whoopi Goldberg her Oscar; and the word "ditto" as an acceptable response to the phrase "I love you."
However, the film's special effects don't stand as a technical achievement in film making, and certainly aren't its marquee moments.
That's where the film's Broadway stage adaptation steps in and shines. The national tour of "Ghost: The Musical" is making its way across the country, stopping in East Lansing at the Wharton Center through December 15, 2013.
It's the familiar story of Sam Wheat and Molly Jensen, a couple who seem to have nothing but good things ahead of them until Sam is murdered when a man tries to rob him. Sam is caught between worlds, as he learns his death was a setup by their mutual friend Carl, and finds the only person who can help him protect Molly is the fraudulent psychic Oda Mae Brown.
"Ghost: The Musical" takes this beloved story into the 21st century, while staying true to its memorable script and characters. Without the aid of movie magic, the illusions and special tricks that occur on stage, created by illusionist Paul Kieve (responsible for the special effects in the Harry Potter films and other Broadway hits), make this adaptation a worthy spectacle. Scenes in the film that might not get a second glance become how-do-they-do-that moments that left me wishing I could rewind and watch them again.
Two large LED screens are major set pieces used throughout the show to add to the scenery (depicting New York City traffic and an elevator, for example) and also help with the special effects. In particular, the most electrifying scene in the show takes place on a subway train. The LED screens made it easy for the audience to visualize an actual train on stage, playing tricks with the eye as objects and characters seemingly float in the air when Sam is confronted by the Subway Ghost.
When the screens weren't used as part of the special effects or to set a scene, they felt more reminiscent of a flashy rock concert, taking me out of the grittiness and serious tone of the subject matter.
On the other hand, a welcome distraction from the sadder aspects of the story is the character of Oda Mae Brown, played with zeal by Carla R. Stewart. Stewart brings her own spin to the memorable Oda Mae, changing the inflection of even the most well-known lines to make the part her own. Her diva-like solo "I'm Outta Here" and its bright scenery garnered the biggest cheers of the whole show.
"Ghost" isn't a traditional love story, as its two romantic leads hardly interact with one another other than the bookends of the story. The musical's leads Katie Postotnik and Steven Grant Douglas handle this arrangement well, establishing themselves as a loving couple enough so our hearts are broken not just in Sam's death, but in the aftermath.
Postotnik's take on the grieving Molly goes beyond what is seen in the film thanks to her sweet, sad voice on songs like "With You." Douglas, highlighted in a dewy blue spotlight as the ghost of Sam Wheat, is a handsome leading man who the audience can thankfully see even if the other characters can't. Stepping into the shoes of Patrick Swayze isn't easy, but Douglas - like Carla R. Stewart - handles making the character his own.
In the case of many movies turned into musicals and vice versa, purists would often recommend sticking with the original source material, or lament that the new incarnation can't stand up.
When it comes to "Ghost" and "Ghost: The Musical," I think you can have your cake and eat it, too. Fans of the film won't be disappointed, as its scriptwriter (and Michigan native) Bruce Joel Rubin wrote the book for the Broadway version. And the special effects alone, which even impressed illusionist David Copperfield, make it unlike other stage musicals.
A film and stage version of the same story that can co-exist in the same world? "Ghost: The Musical" made me a believer.
See "Ghost: The Musical" at the Wharton Center through Sunday, December 15th, 2013. Click here for more information.