Katie Postotnik and Steven Grant Douglas in Ghost – The Musical on tour. All photo credits: Joan Marcus
The movie, Ghost, was a hugely popular film — it made more than $200 million at the box office, and that’s in 1990 money. It starred Patrick Swayze as a man who’s murdered but who still desperately tries to contact his fiancée through the spirit world. Two years ago, the stage adaptation, Ghost – The Musical played London, then Broadway. Now the national tour has come to North Texas. But in his review, KERA’s Jerome Weeks says for a ghost, this one’s pretty noisy.
- Dallas Morning News review
- TheaterJones review
- Front Row review
- Star-Telegram review
- KERA radio review:
- Online review:
What’s the single scene anyone really remembers from the movie, Ghost? The claymaking scene, right?
That’s the one with the Righteous Brothers soaring away with ‘Unchained Melody.’ Demi Moore is a ceramic artist who happens to have a fabulous apartment that all New York ceramic artists do because, lucky for her, her fiance is a hotshot young banker, played by Patrick Swayze. This is 1990, remember — probably the last time a New York banker could be portrayed as any sort of handsome movie hero.
At any rate, in this scene, the young lovers are at her potter’s wheel, with Swayze bare-chested, of course, and they’re getting their hands all wet and slick with clay. Then they move on to wetting up some other body parts. Forget all of the movie’s spectral (and now seriously out of date) special effects and the lame murder-mystery story. This is the heart of Ghost’s appeal. It was an intimate, sensual, but thoroughly PG-13 romance.
So how does something that small get translated into a Broadway musical?
Not the world’s most subtle performance: Carla Stewart as Oda Mae Brown with Steven Grant Douglas.
Broadway director Matthew Warchus gives us strobe lights and a rock ‘n’ roll concert scaffolding with spotlights that’ll suddenly swivel and blind everyone in the audience. We get a ton of video projections as well, some of the most sophisticated video you’ll see on tour, thanks to designer Jon Driscoll. Everything is flashy and bright and booming and whizzing. And we get music that for the most part is kind of finger-popping and kind of forgettable and generic (having ‘Unchained Melody’ around for comparison does it no favors).
Considering the nature of the original material, does any of this sound just a little misplaced? How about fundamentally misbegotten? But wait, there’s more. The leads in this touring production, particularly Katie Postotnik in the Demi Moore role, have those American Idol voices that everyone seems to have these days, the kind that show how sincere and intense the singer is through displays of technical, tendon-taut ferocity. No nuance, little variation. Every note gets slammed like a jackhammer. So not only is Ghost occasionally eye-stabbing to watch, it can be ear-splitting to listen to.
Some of the stage images are indeed lovely, notably a low-rent Magritte scene with a cloud of umbrellas during a rain storm, their handles flickering like falling, shining raindrops. And then there are the much-vaunted magic illusions, courtesy of Paul Kieve. But seriously, some of these — objects flying through the air with no visible means of support — aren’t that difficult to pull off, when theatergoers have just had a wall of flares go off in their faces and are still blinking with blindness.
I shouldn’t make too much of all this. It’s not like the musical ruined a great movie. Ghost was always tear-jerky and schlocky. And classic musicals have been made out of this kind of second-rate material before. No one remembers the James Michener short stories that were turned into South Pacific or whatever the original source for Bye Bye Birdie was.
So I was still hoping for something — even if this is a non-Equity production and eight members of the cast are making their US tour debuts. A good reason to hope was Dave Stewart, co-composer of the show. That’s Dave Stewart as in Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics, composer of”Sweet Dreams,” “Would I Lie to You?” and “Missionary Man,” as well as the producer for dozens of major talents from Bryan Ferry to Tom Petty.
But Stewart’s music is the final disappointment. There is only one possibly memorable musical number in the show. It’s sung by Carla A. Stewart, who plays Oda Mae Brown, the psychic who’s able to hear the dead banker. That’s the loud, broad comic role Whoopi Goldberg — this still seems unbelievable — won an Oscar for. In Carla Stewart’s hands, and under Warchus’ direction, the character is a ludicrous, hoodoo-lady joke, completely over the top.
On the other hand, the catchy, hard-driving number she sings has a chorus whose sentiments many people in the audience may well wish to heed: “I’m outta here.”