BWW Reviews: GHOST THE MUSICAL Makes West Coast Premiere at Pantages
Hard to believe, but it's been almost 25 years since the phenomenal movie Ghost (1990) was released, becoming one of the biggest hits of the decade. What made the movie so endearing was not only the comic genius of Whoopi Goldberg who won an Oscar for playing psychic Oda Mae Brown, but the screenplay by Bruce Joel Rubin that had miles and miles of heart. The musical based on this movie opened in London in 2011 and on Broadway a year later to terribly mixed reviews and closed in New York after only 500 regular performances. Now onstage at the Pantages this new tour is sleek with dynamite special effects and boasts a great cast with finely-honed staging by director Matthew Warchus, but when all is said and done, this heartwarming classic deserves a better musical score.
Bruce Joel Rubin has wisely created the book from his Oscar-winning screenplay adapting quite amply the fantasy/crime drama/romantic elements of the script with searing special effects and illusions by Paul Kieve. Since the plot is of operatic proportions, a rock opera seems perfect for Ghost, but somehow, except for a couple of numbers, Dave Stewart and Glen Ballard have not created anything special. Numbers are fast, loud and strong giving choreographer Ashley Wallen plenty of opportunity to create some eerily original and frenetic dance moves for the ensemble, but whereas Rubin's gleaming romance between Sam Wheat (Steven Grant Douglas) and Molly Jensen (Katie Postotnik) simply soars, there is no powerful music underneath to enhance or sustain it. It is up to the book, director and the actors to create what magic ensues. Couldn't they have come up with a lovely memorable romantic ballad instead of relying on the film's standard "Unchained Melody" at the finale? Disappointing! Sir Andrew would have done it
As far as plot goes, Sam is shot and dies while he and Molly are returning home from an art exhibition promoting her sculpture. His spirit gets caught between two worlds. When he discovers that his best friend Carl Bruner (Robby Haltiwanger) had plotted to rearrange and abscond with funds from the bank where they both worked - which included killing Sam as a possible witness - he seeks help from psychic Oda Mae (Carla R. Stewart) to warn Molly that her life is in danger. There are beautifully orchestrated scenes on a subway train where Sam learns how to focus and move objects from a master Ghost (Brandon Curry) as well as a slick fight scene between Sam and his murderer Willie Lopez (Fernando Contreras) that leads to Willie's demise as well as Carl's eventual death and quick descent into hell. Paul Kieve's use of illusions throughout is nothing short of brilliant.
The ensemble do fine work led by Douglas as the consistently rattled Sam and Postotnik as sweet, victimized, lovesick Molly. Haltiwanger fills Carl's shoes appropriately, but it is Stewart as Oda Mae that wins the hour with true comedic genius...and the girl can sing and dance!!! Praise once more to director Warchus for his quick pacing/full-out staging, to Wallen for some fun choreography and to Jon Driscoll for video and projection design that make both interior and exterior living spaces just tick with excitement.
Ghost the Musical is a splendid effort in technology for the stage and has its fun as well as absorbing moments. Despite its major flaws, it exceeded my expectations. Go, judge for yourselves and enjoy!