ORLANDO — In 1990, a screenwriter named Bruce Joel Rubin had a very good year, having written the scripts for two first-rate movies released within months of one another.
One was “Jacob’s Ladder,” an intense and surreal horror film about a Vietnam Veteran who is haunted by disturbing, ghostly images in New York City, a film that’s since developed a solid cult following.
Rubin had even more success with “Ghost,” a romantic thriller about a young couple, Sam and Molly, whose lives are shattered when Sam is murdered, but his ghost sets out to save Molly from the people who killed him. A huge hit, it was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture, and made a star of Whoopi Goldberg, who won an Oscar for best supporting actress.
In one year, Rubin made the supernatural a very hot cinematic property.
In the past few decades, “Ghost” has endured and held up as a classic, so it’s not surprising that Rubin would opt to take it to Broadway, writing the book for a theatrical production, “Ghost The Musical”. Anyone familiar with the movie is likely to shake their heads at first, and wonder how a film so heavy on special effects could ever be transferable to the stage.
The answer to that, now that “Ghost the Musical” has arrived at the Bob Carr Performing Arts Centre in downtown Orlando, is that this production truly excels when it comes to special effects. In recounting the familiar story of the love between Sam and Molly, which continues even after he is murdered by a man posing as a mugger, makes an often stunning switch to the stage, which an impressive array of visual treats.
Other Broadway touring productions, like Disney’s “Mary Poppins,” have similarly demonstrated that you don’t need a big screen cinema to create eye-popping illusions, and “Ghost the Musical” doesn’t disappoint, either. There are a number of impressive moments, including Sam fighting another ghost on a speeding subway car, a rainstorm on the streets of New York City, and Sam passing through a wall as a ghost.
The production also does a nice job of keeping Sam the ghost under a shade of blue light to distinguish him from the other performers. His death scene, where he chases the mugger and then discovers, to his horror, that he is now watching Molly sobbing over his dead body, is also well staged.
Another great benefit of the show is exactly what worked in the movie: Rubin’s original story, which holds up well and still has the power to move and draw us in emotionally. At times romantic, then suspenseful, then comical, then horrific (particularly in the deaths of the show’s two villains, who are then maliciously hauled off by dark spirits), Rubin doesn’t do much to change the original, which is why it still works.
Just as the movie offered two pleasant but bland leads (Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore) who are constantly upstaged by Goldberg, we have a similar situation in the play. Steven Grant Douglas makes a good lead as Sam, while Katie Postotnik doesn’t really get much to do in the under-written role as the grieving Molly. But they’re both upstaged constantly by Carla Stewart, who is a real joy as Oda Mae Brown, the fake psychic who discovers she truly does have a gift for communicating with the dead – much to her utter dismay. Stewart steals every scene she’s in, and is never better than when she goes to a bank, under Sam’s instructions, to close a $10 million account.
The one disappointment in the casting is in the role of Carl, the story’s main villain. In the movie, Tony Goldwyn was terrific as the handsome, sexy man whose exterior beauty and charm masked a chilling inner greed, malice and evil. Robby Haltiwanger’s Carl, on the other hand, just seems hyperactive and cranky.
The biggest difference from the movie, as it turns out, is also the play’s greatest weakness: the score by Dave Stewart and Glen Ballard, which ranges from forgettable to downright awful. The songs have an 80’s techno beat sound that was grating, and sounded so much like something from a time capsule that at times I was wondering if Donna Summer and the Village People were about to pop on stage. Often excessively loud, the songs seemed like a rude intrusion onto the story, slowing its momentum without adding much. One of the worst moments is a song performed by a group of ghosts lamenting that they died too young, which is absolutely cringe-inducing. It also says something that the best song in the play is “Unchained Melody,” the old Righteous Brothers classic that was used so effectively in the movie.
In retrospect, I think “Ghost” would have worked better without the songs – or at least with better ones. The special effects are good, the story holds up well, and Douglas and Stewart work nicely together. The songs do nothing but slow the pace and add a touch of tedium to it all.
Tickets for “Ghost The Musical” range between $38.50 and $75.50. Shows are 8 p.m. tonight and Saturday, and 2 p.m. on Saturday and 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. on Sunday, at the performing arts center at 401 W. Livingston St. Call 407-246-4262 for tickets.
This is the last-ever touring Broadway production that will be performed at the Bob Carr Performing Arts Centre, which was built in 1927. Starting this fall, Broadway productions will be hosted at the new
Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Orlando.
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