By Ian Rigg
Who ya gonna call?
Forget the Ghostbusters. Ghost The Musical needs an exorcist. A misshapen piece of pottery, this also-ran of the movie-to-musical camp is cursed to follow in the footsteps of shows like Flashdance and The Bodyguard, doomed to tour regional and community theaters as a shadow of the beloved film, never to rest.
That being said, the talents at Theatre at the Center manage to lift this poltergeist of a play out of Purgatory–or at least stave off its condemnation to Hell. Recently-deceased Sam must protect his beloved girlfriend Molly from meeting the same violent fate, and reminds us: “The love inside, you take it with you.” Under the direction of the acclaimed Linda Fortunato, the production is many things, but it’s at its best when it remembers it’s a paranormal love story.
For a reputable director, Fortunato has been given a thankless task: revive a wraith like Ghost The Musical (better to be structural engineer of the Titanic). She takes up her mediumship of this bumbling specter to the best of her ability, and most of the pitfalls can be chalked up to the material itself. Her blocking uses the stage to the fullest, and makes good use of the unique ¾ round of the audience. There’s the occasional choreography for the sake of choreography, but there are shades of promise that put the super in supernatural.
Fortunato has devised some incredibly cool tricks and slick sequences, like phasing through doorways, spiritual possessions, using doubles for out-of-body experiences, and a ghostly powers training session. At the same time though, there are some squandered opportunities–that same brilliant scene culminates in Sam feebly knocking a paper bag off a railing with his hand, in what feels like a metaphor for any of the production’s shortcomings.
With Ghost, one wonders if there was opportunity to lean into the pulpy source material, or became a phantasmal 90s period piece instead of a quaint modernization, because sometimes the show seems like it’s stuck in its own purgatory–particularly for the tedious 20 minutes or more in the beginning while Sam’s still breathing. It’s when he dies that the show comes alive, even if it occasionally finds it can’t grab doorknobs afterwards. When a show tries to be a comedy, a thriller, a romance AND a supernatural fantasy, it’s difficult to find the focus, and at times the performers seem to be in a half-hearted emotional limbo. But when Fortunato inevitably finds the pulse again, the actors hit the right notes at the right times for impactful moments.
She can’t rewrite the show, but she can summon her team to bring it back to life–these are some of the best theatrical spirits a séance can offer.
The set is a visually striking, jaggedly utilitarian delight conjured by Sarah Ross. Shards of glass and a spooky aesthetic evoke both a life shattered, and the hidden mirror world the ghosts are doomed to inhabit.
Prop designer Amanda Hermann must be commended for her quest through Inferno for props: she secured everything from a Barbarella poster to the iconic pottery wheel.
Costumer Brenda Winsted cultivates a sense of character that cleverly pays homage to the film, but modernizes the fits and styles (think Swayze’s scarlet shirt, by way of an Express rather than early 90s Sonoma)
Sound designer Mike Patrick pulls off his Herculean tasks of ghostly sound effects and city soundscapes with aplomb.
And Guy Rhodes’ precisely-timed lights sell the unearthly experience. He really sets the spectral scene, from the flashing strobes of a tormented train ghost, to the blood-red lighting scheme of sinners meeting their eternal fate.
Music director William Underwood is given a doubly difficult task in channeling life into a largely lackluster score, and does it well. For the show’s biggest flaw is its music. To be fair to songwriters Dave Stewart, Glen Ballard and Bruce Joel Rubin, there are some stunning standout numbers, particularly for the role of Molly. And as for the rest…well, the haunt doesn’t last that long. And at least there are some standout performances!
Carlos Olmedo brings a frightening intensity to the murderer Willie. Kelvin Roston, Jr. might be the ensemble’s MVP, inhabiting a number of well-crafted character roles, but none so integral as the rich song-and-dance ghost who welcomes Sam to the afterlife with a blues number.
Garrett Lutz’s affable energy anchors the proceedings. As our dearly-departed hero Sam, his relationship with Courtney Mack’s Molly is the heart of the show, and their love is palpable. His sheer charisma keeps the show on life support. Donica Lynn is a defibrillator. As Oda Mae Brown, the iconically raucous con artist and phony medium who ironically discovers she can channel the dead, Lynn is clearly having a ball, nailing righteous riffs and reducing the audience to fits of guffawing hysteria.
As Ghost haunts Theater at the Center, it proves enjoyable in spite of, not because of, its material. While there are times the show feels like it’s drifting through walls, the show has snappy and sincere moments that split sides and make audiences say, “Ditto.” Ghosts remain on Earth because they have unfinished business. Applause sets this production of Ghost The Musical free, because despite its flaws, it’s finished the business of any piece of theatre: to make audiences smile, and light up their life, if only for a little while. That’s what we take with us.
Theatre at the Center presents “Ghost The Musical” through October 14 at 1040 Ridge Road, Munster, IN. More information and tickets are available here.