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Review: Suspend Your Disbelief: See GHOST THE MUSICAL At Toby's In Columbia

GHOST THE MUSICAL is based on Ghost, the 1990 movie starring Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze.

Review: Suspend Your Disbelief: See GHOST THE MUSICAL At Toby's In Columbia

GHOST THE MUSICAL at Toby's Dinner Theater in Columbia offers romance and drama and some 90s retro vibes. The 1955 tune "Unchained Melody" by Alex North strings the whole thing together. The cast and orchestra are earnest, harmonic, and absolutely watchable.

GHOST THE MUSICAL is based on Ghost, the 1990 movie starring Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze. The movie was the pinnacle of earnings in 1990, and at the time, the 3rd highest grossing ever. It gathered 5 Oscar nominations, winning Whoopi Goldberg Best Supporting Actress and Bruce Joel Rubin Best Original Screenplay. In a world looking for "new" musicals, it seemed a good bet. By its 2011 premiere, the material was fresh for youngsters, nostalgic for elders and a probable draw for those who loved the movie. The stage musical script and song lyrics are by Bruce Joel Rubin, with music and additional lyrics by Dave Stewart and Glen Ballard.

The musical version of GHOST, directed and choreographed by Mark Minnick at Toby's Dinner Theater in Columbia, delivers excellent performances, beautiful lighting, perfect sound quality, dynamic movement and is a fully functional piece of musical theater. It features love, drama, betrayal, swindling and unlikely friendships. The team at Toby's, a collection of highly talented performers and production people, offers a show that's sentimental, supernatural, smooth, speedy, and sounds amazing.

The multi-tiered seating all around the floor that's buffet area for dinner and stage afterwards assures every seat gives a good view. Toby's offers food as high in quality as in the Before Times, which many restaurants seem no longer capable of doing. As ever, their food is varied, pleasingly but not aggressively seasoned, freshly cooked and visually appealing. The buffet offers main courses, side dishes, fruit, cheese, salad bar, shrimp cocktail, carved meats and a basket of wonderful bread. Ice cream in the lobby is smaller in scale nowadays, and you still have a choice of two served deserts. Tonight's special drink, Ditto, is pink and frozen and mildly fruity.

Patrick Gover, who gave a knockout performance in his Toby's debut as the lead in ROCKY, makes an excellent, playful Sam Wheat, with broad, entertaining physicality and a smooth, melodic voice. He has wonderful chemistry with MaryKate Brouillet who plays Molly Jensen. Brouillet has charmed me before with a variety of performances at Toby's, and, as Molly, delivers flawless vocals in solo, harmony and counterpoint. Brouillet's duets with Gover, "Here Right Now," "Three Little Words" and "Rain/Hold On" anchor the musical through-line. "I Had A Life" is poignant and yearning, and is a standout number in the show.

Justin Calhoun, in the role of Carl Bruner, has a strong stage presence and a capable voice that carries solo moments and also blends well during group numbers. Singing lead in the Act I number "More," Calhoun reveals character motivation, and his slick, smug portrayal of Sam's best friend builds interpersonal tension and plot suspense.

Oda Mae Brown is performed by Ashley Johnson, with fantastic animation and powerful vocals- I anticipate more from her at Toby's. Her songs, "Are You A Believer?" and "I'm Outta Here" are humorous and rousing, delivered with clarity and nuance. She's a joy to watch, and makes the role her own. In the part of Willie Lopez, Ryan Sellers absolutely embodies the ethos of a low-level crook. The subway ghost, a crucial plot device, was frenetically performed by understudy Brian Dauglash, who entered the role seamlessly.

Director Mark Minnick keeps the performers moving at different speeds during musical numbers, to match the mood of each song. The storyline includes characters changing locations frequently, requiring set changes which are done swiftly and silently by all but invisible stage techs, ensuring that the pacing is brisk. Rapid transitions, a cinematographic staple, are difficult to reproduce in live theater, but due to the coordinated excellence of Toby's stage techs, set changes are nearly instantaneous.

Musicians are visible throughout the show, occupying balconies that often function as set locations. Conducting and on Keyboards is Ross Scott Rawlings, Jennifer Murray and Michael Vaughn on Viola, Emma Johnson on Cello, Kim Spath on Guitar and Michael Kellam on Bass. The emphasis on strings builds the thematic mood of the story. Specific music for ghostly moments are emphatically excellent, and really support the 'spirit' of the show.

Costume designer Janine Sunday employs a beautifully subtle use of color for main characters vs ensemble vs unworldly spirits. The New York City wardrobe looks really nail the '90s, and Sam's ghost shirt is gorgeous. Dramatic moments of characters getting their comeuppance were excellent examples of technical drama as created by lighting and sound, no further SFX required, so kudos to Mark Smedley's sound design and the scenic and lighting design by David A. Hopkins.

An element featured in the movie Ghost is the 1955 Oscar nominated "Unchained Melody," from the prison film Unchained, known only for its signature melody, and nothing else. The movie's song, music by Alex North, lyrics by Hy Zaret, was sung by Todd Duncan, and an orchestral version was released as well. "Unchained Melody" fell from favor until The Righteous Brothers covered it ten years later. It's the phrasing of the Righteous Brothers version that is now iconic, and most frequently covered, and it's the one used in GHOST THE MUSICAL. Patrick Gover does a beautiful job performing it vocally and on guitar.

The cast, musicians and production people at Toby's produce a sparkling rendition of the musical-ized movie Ghost- whether you love a romance, a thriller or just a well-done performance, you'll be glad to suspend your disbelief and enjoy GHOST THE MUSICAL.

GHOST THE MUSICAL plays at Toby's in Columbia through November 6th, and will be followed by IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE THE MUSICAL which is slated to run November 11th - January 15th.

Toby's Dinner Theatre is in Columbia, Maryland, easily accessed from 29 Southbound, with plenty of free parking all around the building.

Toby's Dinner Theatre

5900 Symphony Woods Road

Columbia, MD 21044

For additional information including pricing, buffet menu and directions, visit www.tobysdinnertheatre.com.

Reach the box office at 410-730-8311, 301-596-6161 or 1-800-88-TOBYS 10 am - 9 pm. Doors open at 6 pm Tuesday through Saturday evenings, dinner from 6:30-7:20 for an 8 pm showtime. Wednesday and Sunday Matinees, the buffet is 10:30-11:50 am for a 12:30 pm show. Sunday evening supper is at 5:30 pm, with a 7 pm showtime. The show runs about one and a half hours, including a 20 minute intermission.

Photo: Ashley Johnson, Patrick Gover, MaryKate Brouillet as Oda Mae, Sam and Molly

Photo Credit: Jeri Tidwell Photography


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