Review: National Tour of Ghost the Musical is Sweet and Sappy

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Over the weekend, I went to see the Broadway national tour of Ghost the Musical. It stopped in Hartford, CT, June 12 through June 15, at The Bushnell as part of the theater's annual Broadway series.

A little background about the show: Ghost the Musical is based on the 1990 film "Ghost" starring Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore, Whoopi Goldberg, and Tony Goldwyn. The live, musical version first opened in the UK in 2011, before transferring to Broadway in April 2012. Shortly thereafter, the show launched its national U.S. tour, which is currently scheduled through August 2014.

Both the show and the film center on Sam and Molly, a young couple who are dealt an unexpected blow when Sam dies, leaving him trapped between two worlds. When Sam realizes Molly is in danger, he refuses to move on and instead turns to a psychic in order to communicate with Molly and ask her to avenge his death.

So how did the story translate onstage? Check out my review below to find out.

Please note: Major spoilers ahead!

Plot

The story of Ghost the Musical stays very close to the original film. In some ways, the musical's adherence to the film is good, because you know exactly what you're getting into. The moments you loved from the film make it into the play and that's pretty lovely.

However, if you haven't seen the original movie, it is possible you may have a hard time keeping up in a musical that is fast-paced and doesn't always explain everything (such as the ghost who lives on the subway and what his deal is).

Plus, I would have loved for the theatrical version to elaborate on some fuzzy points from the original movie; neither really delve into why Carl decides to betray Sam, aside from being money-hungry. In this version, Carl makes a reference to getting the "drug money" to the unnamed but ominous bad guys — but that's the first and last reference to these off-stage villains. And how did Carl hatch this plan seemingly overnight, including hiring a hit man (and how did he pay for that hit man)? There was definitely room for a little elaboration.

However, even with its flaws, most of the story plays out nicely on stage and you'll leave feeling fulfilled.

Acting

In the touring production, Steven Grant Douglas plays Sam Wheat, Katie Postotnik plays Molly Jensen, Carla R. Stewart plays Oda Mae Brown, and Robby Haltiwanger plays Carl Bruner. It's clear from the start that Douglas and Postotnik have chemistry; they're a very convincing Sam and Molly, and your heart will break every time you realize they can't be together.

Haltiwanger is decent at making you hate him (although I didn't find him as scary as Tony Goldwyn), but the shining star was Stewart and her Oda Mae Brown. She stole the show for me; not only was she able to act as the much-needed comedic relief in an otherwise heavy-handed story, but she was sweet, sincere, and giving in all the right moments.

Singing

For a show that wasn't originally a musical, this story translates well. The songs are pretty seamless and don't necessarily feel out of place (although sometimes it may be a bit jarring to see a crew of dancers in a scene intended only to include one or two characters).

Molly's "With You" is chilling, while Oda Mae's "Are You a Believer?" and "I'm Outta Here" are fun and playful. And then, of course, there's "Unchained Melody." It's the signature song (sung by The Righteous Brothers) in the film and made two appearances in the theatrical version — first when Sam serenades Molly in Act One, and then (of course) in the infamous pottery scene between Sam and Molly in Act II.

Lighting, Sound, Special Effects

Truth be told, I was very skeptical going into this show. Was it even possible to make Sam a ghost on stage without it seeming contrived and cheesy? Yes. To make Sam seem "ghostly," they cast a blue-ish light on him for the entire performance, which helped differentiate him from the other characters who were alive. It was simple, but it worked.

Utilizing screens, projections, and moving parts of the stage, the scenery was robust; they were able to re-create Molly's loft apartment; the stuffy cubicles where Carl worked; Oda Mae's eclectic psychic storefront; and even the subway car where Sam learned to how to interact with solid items (despite being a ghost). While some theater reviewers have criticized these elements as over-the-top and unnecessary, I disagree. The team behind this show did an impressive job.

I was really amazed every time someone on stage "died" (which happened more often than you'd think...) and their "ghost" appeared. Yes, it was achieved with the use of two actors for the same role, but the execution was seamless. Then there were little things that helped add to the feeling of the show, like Sam "walking through" a solid door and Carl's office being haunted by Sam. In fact, my only complaint was a bit of over-acting on Douglas' part when he's being pushed by the subway ghost; otherwise, the whole look of the show was incredible. I later found out why — these illusions were created by stage and film illusionist Paul Kieve, who has worked on films like "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" and Broadway shows such as Matilda the Musical and Pippin.

Comparison to the film

There were a few things about the original "Ghost" that I loved, and I'd have been disappointed if they hadn't made it into the musical version. There were some pretty memorable scenes from that movie, after all. But the theater version hit on all of them, including:

  • Ditto: This is the signature "I love you" between Sam and Molly. It plays a big role in the story.
  • Unchained Melody: I already mentioned that they used "Unchained Melody" and I'm so happy they did. It's not "Ghost" without this song!
  • The pottery scene: This scene was so famous it's been parodied countless times. But it's also a really good, sad scene from the film. During intermission, I had trouble remembering what part of the film this scene happened during, and thought for sure they weren't going to do it. But I was wrong!
  • Oda Mae Brown's dress: I actually hadn't given Oda Mae's outfits much thought. However, when Sam told her to show up at the bank in "something nice" and she showed up in a bright pink outfit reminiscent of what Whoopi Goldberg wore in the film, I remembered how much I loved that ridiculous, over-the-top look. I'm glad they kept this in the theatear version.
  • The dance scene: You know the one — when Sam uses Oda Mae to dance with Molly one last time. The audience was so moved by this, they burst into applause.

Conclusion

Know this much before going into Ghost the Musical: it is every bit as cheesy as its 1990 counterpart. And that's part of what makes it so great. The best way to enjoy this musical is to enjoy it for what it is: a sappy, romantic drama that taps into all the right kinds of nostalgia. Fans of the 1990 film (like me!) will undoubtedly really love the on-stage version, too.

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