Review: Ghost the Musical

Emily Pace and Seth Paden in Ghost the Musical              Photo by Joshua McGowen

By Larry Laneer
October 22, 2018

 Although it starts off vague, Ghost the Musical turns out to be a sweet little love story intertwined with a ghost story. The show stretches credulity, but some people say all musicals do that.

Based on the 1990 film (with Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore as the leads), the show is now being put on by Pollard Theatre Company in Guthrie. Dave Stewart and Glen Ballard wrote the music and lyrics with book and lyrics by Bruce Joel Rubin, who wrote the motion picture’s screenplay.

Pollard delayed the production’s opening a week due to “technical concerns.” As written, the show requires some special effects, and Pollard has struck a reasonable balance between the company’s capabilities and what the production needs to convey the supernatural. A bigger-budget staging would have far more elaborate special effects, but this production does not seem scaled down or skimpy. Creative uses of scrims, projections, lighting, sound effects, a tension-inducing score, and fine acting come together for an entertaining couple of hours.

The musical is set in New York City, but it’s hard to tell from this production when. Maybe about the time of the movie. Business-executive types in high finance go around in preppy suits carrying hard-sided briefcases. The unmarried couple Sam and Molly have bought a fixer-upper in Brooklyn. He’s an uncharacteristically nice, if buttoned-up, Wall Streeter. She’s a ceramicist who’s just now getting into the galleries. Before long, a tragic event happens. But with this being a ghost story and mystery/thriller, things and people aren’t always what and whom they seem to be. The audience knows more than the characters on stage do, so you may be tempted to shout “Don’t open that door!”

W. Jerome Stevenson and Jared Blount get co-director credit with scenic and lighting design by Stevenson and sound and video design by Blount. Stevenson’s versatile set serves well the cinematic structure of the show. The many scene changes flow smoothly, and a New York City skyline extends to the urban horizon. Stevenson, Blount, and music director Todd Malicoate meld lighting, sound, and score into a satisfying whole.

But this subcompact production wouldn’t amount to much without fine performances from the cast. As the leads, Seth Paden (new to me) plays Sam, and Emily Pace is Molly. The roles demand equal ability in singing and acting, and Paden and Pace have the chops for both. Paden (let’s see more of him) stays on stage for much of the show in a demanding role. As Molly, Pace swings convincingly between grief and frustration. Plus, the two have credible chemistry.

De’Vin Lewis commands the stage as the store-front psychic Oda Mae. Her over-the-top performance is completely in character. For my money, Lewis outdoes Whoopi Goldberg, who played the part in the movie. But Goldberg didn’t have the advantage of the musical’s two soulful solos for Oda Mae. I’d quote the songs’ titles, but Pollard doesn’t list the musical numbers in the program, an amateurish omission. Charlie Monnot plays an unexpected villain, although his venal character might claim he’s a victim. The role is a welcome stretch for Monnot.

The score’s songs are serviceable (you won’t leave the theater humming any of the tunes), but the underlying music creates tension like a film score. The five-piece pit band (typical for Pollard) puts out a surprisingly big sound when needed and can be as subtle as a whisper. Drummer Aaron Marshall and violinist Amanda Fortney stand out when musical extremes are needed.

Ghost won’t rank among the great musicals of our time. With this show, Pollard has set a modest goal and achieves it with noticeable effort.

Ghost the Musical by Dave Stewart and Glen Ballard (music/lyrics) and Bruce Joel Rubin (book/lyrics)
Pollard Theatre Company
8:00 p.m. Thursday-Saturday through October 27
Pollard Theatre
120 W. Harrison Ave., Guthrie

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