Screen to Stage, Part Three
Published on June 25th, 2012 | by Sheila Kogan0
In 1990, Bruce Joel Rubin won an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for “Ghost.”
Directed by Jerry Zucker, the film crosses genres of romance, thriller, comedy and the supernatural, and though on the sentimental side (or because of it), it’s been a favorite—the kind of movie that people watch over and over and over.
No doubt because of the ready-made audience, the producers decided to make a musical for the stage and Rubin was asked to adapt his screenplay. The result was a hit on the West End in London, and is now on Broadway.
Fans of the movie will happily recognize the story; the plot remains intact. Sam is killed and in his new condition as a ghost, uses the storefront psychic, Oda Mae Brown, as a go-between to communicate with Molly, his love. As he tries to solve the mystery of who killed him and why, he discovers complications that put Molly in harm’s way. He needs Oda Mae to help him warn Molly, to protect her.
Part of the success of the film is due to the chemistry between Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore. You feel that they love each other. On stage, the attractive, appealing, and talented Richard Fleeshman and Caissie Levy also seem convincingly in love with each other. Without the romance, the rest of the story would fall apart. You must believe that theirs is the kind of love that crosses the boundary of this life and the next.
Whoopi Goldberg won Best Actress in a Supporting Role for her portrayal of Oda Mae Brown in the movie. Rubin created such a memorable character, and Goldberg’s wonderful comic talents lighten the serious drama. On stage, the part is played with joyful outrageousness by Da’Vine Joy Randolph, who fills the stage with her entertaining presence and show-stopping talent. Although she didn’t win the Tony, she was well deserving of it.
In the movie, the comedy helps to suspend the disbelief for those who don’t normally accept the existence of ghosts. It works on stage, too, but in addition, there are physical issues. Some of the otherworldly effects are fairly easy to create in film. Since the first movies, the use of double exposure allowed ghosts to seem to walk through solid walls. So some of the effects used in the film version of “Ghost” were already part of well-known technique. But how do you create those same effects on stage? There are real people up there and CGI just doesn’t work in these circumstances. And yet Sam walks through a door, characters rise up (with no apparent wires), objects move without being touched, and more. How did they do that?! The illusions receive applause and “ah’s” because they are astonishing. Paul Kieve is the illusionist who created magic in the Harry Potter series and other films, and the magic he creates here is amazing and a marvel. The sound effects by Bobby Aitken are expertly timed and aid in the effects.
It has almost become ordinary to have some kind of video projections for stage productions, but Jon Driscoll’s video designs interact with real performers to better dramatic effect than I’ve ever seen. For instance, in the film, Sam is thrown off a moving subway by a crazy, angry subway ghost (who was played by the distinctively weird Vincent Shiavelli). On stage, Tyler McGee plays the ghost more like a punk rocker, but he, too, throws Sam off a speeding subway. It is a terrific effect and a wonderful example of multimedia. (Wonderful, as in full of wonder. Or maybe just, wow.)
Sometimes, however, the projections just create busy-ness and are distracting. We may feel as if we’re in the midst of the dizzying, attention-grabbing billboards in Times Square, but the dancers are often completely lost against the pulsating neon backgrounds. It’s difficult to distinguish the real people from the moving images behind them. So even though the dancers are working very hard, the choreography loses shape and disappears. Why bother to have dancers if you can’t see them?
All the performers are strong singers with fine voices, but unfortunately, the songs by Dave Stewart and Glen Ballard are the weakest part of this musical. The only song that is memorable is “Unchained Melody,” the song by Hy Zaret and Alex North that has become identified with the movie. The producers were wise to license its use because it is still works as a touchstone.
The musical “Ghost,” directed by Matthew Warchus, is a special experience in which media is used to remarkable dramatic effect. If you want to go to an old-fashioned musical with songs that touch you emotionally, this isn’t the show for you. If, however, you’re a fan of the movie, you’ll appreciate this retelling.
But mostly, if you want to see how a story can be told onstage with the fabulously creative use of the latest technology, you definitely ought to see “Ghost,” the musical.