Ghost the Musical attempts to resurrect a classic love story

The high-tech musical adaptation yields unremarkable results.

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In the realm of popular culture, pottery wheels, psychics and poltergeist will be indelibly connected, thanks to 1990’s romantic blockbuster, Ghost. The film — starring Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze — was the highest grossing film of that year, and garnered Whoopi Goldberg an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.

Parlaying the film’s massive success onto the stage, Ghost the Musical debuted in Manchester in 2011. Now on a nationwide tour, the musical made its way to the Straz Center for the Performing Arts this past Tuesday and will run through April 27.

Young couple Molly (Katie Postotnik) and Sam (Steven Grant Douglas)—an artist and a banker—move into a Brooklyn loft. The musical opens with the couple moving into their new place, each casually dressed and surround by a sparse setting—a loveseat, refrigerator and a few random props. During the first musical number, taking place in the apartment, the sparseness of the set is offset by a digital backdrop, displaying a mirage of soaring “selfies” of the couple. 

This combination of the technical and the theatrical is present throughout the production, and is sometimes more effective than others. As Sam works as a big-city banker, the digital background displayed a cheesy cityscape, as several dancers decked out in business suits and briefcase performed underwhelming choreography. The sequence ultimately seems out of place and — weirdly enough — outdated.

A scene set at a tiny Italian bistro allowed for the focus to be placed on the relationship between Molly and Sam. And although the chemistry between the characters was not necessarily blaring, it was certainly endearing.

This preciousness was cut short by the mugging and murder of Sam by thug Willie Lopez (Fernando Contreras). During Sam’s transition from human to ghost, the technological aspects of the production were effective, captivating and (most importantly) convincing.

The subsequent scenes featured Sam in a hospital surrounded by other ghosts who are stuck in limbo between life and death, and his interaction with an enraged ghost on a subway car. Brandon Curry—who played ghost on the subway—gave one of the most commanding, physical performances of the production. Technologically, the illusion of a moving subway car accompanied by airborne objects demonstrated a seamless execution on the part of the production team.

Slowing down the momentum, Molly performed a solo ballad in her loft about her longing for Sam after his death. Postotnik’s voice — although powerful — has a Disney-ish quality, and it faltered at times. The original songwriting by Dave Stewart and Glen Ballard was lyrically and musically simple and ultimately unremarkable.

The fraudulent psychic who helps Sam reconnect with Molly — Oda Mae Brown (played by the outstanding Carla R. Stewart) — created the most entertaining and comedic moments of the entire production, dressed in a tie-dye cape and backed by an eccentric pair of twin sisters. The trio’s hilarious gospel numbers were a perfect display of soulful vocal acrobatics and impeccable comedic timing.

And yes, the infamous pottery wheel scene does make an appearance in the musical adaptation, with minor alterations. In keeping with the film, the moment is set to the sounds of the Righteous Brothers’ “Unchained Melody” — a tune that popped up in several of the musical’s romantic scenes. These scenes are harnessed by Douglas’s subtle, charming delivery — his performance is the heart of the production.

However, many of the interactions between Molly and Sam lacked the passion and rawness that made the film’s love story so effective. The love story itself was often overshadowed by the convolutions of the story line surrounding Sam’s murder — something to do with ten million dollars…or information stuck on a computer…or someone’s bank account. I’m still confused.

Where Ghost the Musical lacks story or chemistry, it triumphs visually. The blocking was executed perfectly, transitions were made seamlessly and the visual effects were generally engaging. 

No matter how visually impressive the production is, it requires the audience to push past the chaotic choreography and special effects in order to reach the core of the connection between the two main characters — and the love story ends up getting a little lost.

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