For the few people unfamiliar with the movie, here's the story in a nutshell: artist Molly and banker Sam are blissfully in love, until one night they're mugged and Sam is killed. He becomes a ghost that for some reason cannot pass on. He soon discovers that there's more to his murder than a random robbery. The man who killed him is after something, and Molly is in danger. Sam finally finds someone who can hear him, the psychic Oda Mae, who reluctantly agrees to help Sam save Molly and bring his killer to justice.* Original Oscar-winning screenwriter Bruce Joel Rubin wrote the book and co-wrote the lyrics, so the musical hues pretty close to the original story with slight modifications necessary for the stage (which unfortunately means the cat that scares off the bad guy is cut).
|Molly and Sam (Mollie Fischer and Frank Moran,
photo courtesy of Old Log Theatre)
I'm not impressed by super tech-heavy shows; that's not why I go to musical theater. The Broadway version of Ghost the Musical may have had more realistic-looking illusions, but I'll trade that for better storytelling every time. The ghostly illusions, while less fancy, are still impressive and accomplish the task. When a character dies and a ghost rises up, a body double (Nick Lande) remains on the floor to represent the soul separating from the body. Videos and projections are used smartly and sparingly, helping to set the scene in various NYC locations, or to show ghosts or spirits. The use of these effects is subtle and adds to the story rather than pulling focus away from it. The Brooklyn loft, Wall Street office, and other locations are represented by three rotating mobile panels, with a brick wall on one side and a paneled window on the other, that are moved into various configurations with images sometimes projected on them (scenic and lighting design by Erik Paulson, projection design by Miko Simmons).
|Heather McElrath as Oda Mae Brown (photo courtesy of Old Log)
Two things that fans of the movie will insist on are both included in the musical - the song "Unchained Melody" and the pottery scene, although the latter plays out differently than it does in the movie. "Unchained Melody" is used in a clever way, with Sam jokingly singing it to Molly early in the show, and the reappearance of several phrases woven into the score later in the show.* The cast and seven-person off-stage band sound great under music director Kyle Picha (although I must point out that the sound mix was off when I saw the show, with the band at times overwhelming the cast, but it's an issue they're working to fix).
Old Log Theatre's regional premiere of Ghost the Musical is an example of a regional production that's better than the Broadway production, at least in this blogger's opinion. A fantastic cast, a promising directorial debut by Eric Morris, design elements that add to the story without overwhelming it, and a beautiful story about love, loss, and connection all add up to a great reason to visit Excelsior this summer. Visit Old Log's website for more information or to order tickets.
"The love inside, you take it with you."
*Some text borrowed from what I wrote about the tour three years ago.
This article also appears on Broadway World Minneapolis.