BWW EXCLUSIVE: Rubin, Robin and the Cast on the New Production of GHOST
One of the bigger pieces of theatre news this year isn't coming from Broadway, but from two regional players - the Fulton Theatre in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, one of Pennsylvania's leading regionals, and Maine State Music Theatre in Brunswick, Maine. Everyone's familiar with GHOST, the riotously popular movie written by Academy Award winner Bruce Joel Rubin and directed by Jerry Zucker. Theatregoers both in the United States and England are also familiar with GHOST: THE MUSICAL, a somewhat less successful venture to the stage that was marred by over-production and overuse of effects, and by a script and songs that made a slight, spare love story of only four characters into an extravaganza that pulled the story down. It was also virtually impossible to reproduce without a Broadway budget; the national tour required ten trucks to ship sets and effects around the country, which meant that no school or community theatre could hope to afford to put it on stage.
Rubin's been in Lancaster lately, working with the Fulton's Artistic Director, Marc Robin, formerly of Chicago, a multiple Broadway World and Joseph Jefferson award winner, to produce a smaller-scale version of the stage show that is effective for other theatres to put on. Robin was approached some time ago by the musical's licensing company, Theatrical Rights Worldwide, to see if the show could be pared down to a more human level. The draft version of Robin's revisions was performed as a staged concert at The Fulton Theatre in January of last year, covered here. Since then, the show has been cast for full production, new sets have been designed, new lighting created, and Rubin and Robin have worked together on the script to create the final concept of the revised "chamber musical" of GHOST, co-produced between the Fulton and MSMT. Dave Stewart and Glen Ballard have reunited to revise music, and the official opening night of the premiere is Thursday, April 21.
We spoke with director Marc Robin, with Bruce Joel Rubin, and with the new production's stars, Gregg Goodbrod and Liz Shivener, to get their thoughts and feelings on producing what is, essentially, an entirely new musical of GHOST.
Goodbrod and Shivener are New York and national tour veterans as well as veterans of the Fulton Theatre, both having performed in the Fulton's acclaimed recent production of LES MISERABLES, and Shivener as the lead in its lavish THE WIZARD OF OZ. Both are also veterans of GHOST as a movie, Goodbrod a continual fan of it on television reruns, and Shivener discovering both the film and the concept of a shirtless Patrick Swayze at 13. They also have connections to the original musical; Shivener saw it on Broadway, as a friend of hers was in it, and Goodbrod auditioned for the original show, though he's never been in its audience.
Shivener explains, "This is more like the film than the original Broadway musical was. It's a new work, and we're approaching it like that. It's being produced as a play with music, not as a musical. It's four people; that's where the scenes are. On Broadway, the musical numbers and the effects distracted you from the story sometimes. We're sticking with the story."
Goodbrod elaborates. "Were not going to have all the effects and lights of the musical. It's the story itself. It's really stripped down."
Though they knew they were taking on a work under development, they didn't quite realize until they began working that this was not just another new show, but major news. "We didn't realize how big this was going to be when we took this on," Goodbrod reveals.
Shivener adds, "It's being done so differently than the way Marc Robin usually works. It's getting written around us. It's exciting." They've experienced coming in to rehearse with one set of lines and having new dialogue by lunch. "What's interesting is that this has two prior versions to compare itself to. Having it come from a film first, and then the other musical - that's really interesting."
Goodbrod likes the scope of the show, in two very different ways. First, "It's a chamber musical. There are only ten of us. No percussion, and it's all real instruments. The music is amazing." Second, "In being faithful to the actual story line, there's an incredible journey for an actor. Being able to see things but not touch them. Seeing people you love mourning you, and not being able to comfort them."
Shivener is also delighted with the music. "Well, there is percussion - our bassist does amazing work that drives the music, but there's no drums. Oh, and there's an egg," she laughs.
Both are excited at working directly with Rubin. Shivener is thrilled: "He says I got Molly!" Goodbrod notes that Rubin's said during the process that he hadn't really felt touched by his work in ten years, but he now felt moved again during the construction of this chamber production.
The actors agree that it's a highly relatable story for audiences, as everyone ultimately comes to live through some part of the mourning process. Says Goodbrod, "We've all loved, we've all lost, and we've all feared it. It's universal that way."
When director Marc Robin was asked for his feelings about the process of creating a completely new version of the musical, he was equally enthusiastic, and was enormously proud of Shivener and Goodbrod. "The Fulton Theatre and Maine State Music Theatre are honored to have the opportunity to present the world premiere of this chamber version of GHOST: THE MUSICAL. I am so grateful to have Maine State Music Theatre on board as a co-producer for this piece. It has been a wonderful collaboration with all involved including the creators and Theatrical Rights Worldwide. We have an amazing cast, who just embody the roles. Liz and Gregg have a terrific chemistry which quickly draws you into the story. I can't wait for everyone to see this precious gem created by Bruce Joel Rubin. It is a truly touching story and is certainly a touchstone moment for The Fulton Theatre."
Bruce Joel Rubin is also excited, both about the show and the cast, and also about Robin's contribution. "I was nervous going into this. I was happy with the West End production in London. [Note: This was the Broadway production.] But I understand Theatrical Rights' point that the original show is too big for most theatres. The touring production took ten trucks. I was afraid of what the show would look like without the effects, but it's found a heart in its simplicity. It was a big, effects-driven show and I loved that, but the revelation is that the emotional power is so great when it's stripped down to the story's essentials." He interjects some movie nostalgia. "Last year was the movie's twenty-fifth anniversary. You can tell it's a Nineties film, but it takes its time, it breathes. This chamber version is more like the movie that way; it's profoundly intimate.
"I'm seeing some of the most talented people I've ever met coming together to do this just for love of theatre. I want to share this production with the world. It's something I want everyone in the world to see. I'm amazed by the actors. They're all so incredibly talented. These guys came in three weeks ago, they're off book, they know the blocking - I didn't see that with the Broadway production. I admit I was concerned about going to some town in Pennsylvania and meeting some director I didn't know who'd just take away the effects, but Marc Robin is so intuitive it's extraordinary. He understands the story. He may be one of the most creative directors I've come across. He understands how to bring this back to the essence of the story."
How has the big West End production changed? "Well, Jerry Zucker is why the movie existed, and Matthew Warchus gave the show its West End and Broadway form, but now we've given it a chamber version that lets the simplicity and the power of the story come through. We've changed some songs, we've changed the order. I'm in love with what we've achieved here. Not only are the bare bones of the story enough, I've discovered they're all it needs. It's a simple, small story.
"The set's been simplified. We'll give theatres lighting and construction plans, copies of the sound effects. Schools and community theatres can afford this. There are touring groups in Europe excited by this, because it will take only one truck, not ten. People who saw this in London and on Broadway said they could never put GHOST on their stages, but now they can. I think this version would also do very well on Broadway, and it probably could play forever. I'm happy that there's a version now that everyone can see and come to love."
The success of the original movie and of the story still surprises him. "I had no idea when I wrote this of what it would become. It's gone on and on and on and on. I'm happy, and I'm grateful to TRW. I'm so glad they thought of this; I wouldn't have on my own. It's humbling on a very real level to know that my story is this successful. I told a story that kept wanting to come through the way it wanted to be told. It's the happiest thing I've created, ever. It's special to know that people love your work, that it's moved them.
"This show is about being aware of the value of love and of the importance of saying 'I love you' to someone. It has a lot to say and it doesn't preach. These characters go through something we all go through. How do you become human again after loss? And the idea of life on the other side? It's out of Greek mythology in some way."
He's looking forward to the premiere, but even more to the idea that other theatres will be putting this production on their stages as well. "Great theatre is happening everywhere now, not just in New York. And now, people will be able to see this story the way it should be seen, with great people doing it everywhere." Premiering on April 21, the production will continue at the Fulton Theatre in Lancaster, Pennsylvania through May 22. It travels to Maine State Music Theatre in Brunswick, Maine from June 8 through June 25.
Photo credits: Kinectiv