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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: ‘Ghost The Musical’ odd but engaging

The rock-style show is at Appleton’s PAC through Sunday.

PHOTO: Katie Postotnik and Steven Grant Douglas are featured in the touring production of “Ghost The Musical.” Production photo

APPLETON, Wis. (WFRV) – Either you saw the movie “Ghost” or you didn’t. I didn’t, so my take on the production “Ghost The Musical” probably is different from the seers. What I saw on opening night Tuesday, March 18, I liked – sort of – almost 4 stars out of 5). Info on the run through Sunday, March 23, at the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center: www.foxcitiespac.org.

SPOILER ALERT. This critique contains many plot giveaways if you haven’t seen the movie.

***

Creative: Book and lyrics – Bruce Joel Rubin, music and lyrics – Dave Stewart and Glen Ballard; director – Matthew Warchus, choreographer – Ashley Wallen, music director – Matthew Smedal.

Cast: Sam Wheat, Steven Grant Douglas; Molly Jenson, Katie Postotnik; Oda Mae Brown, Carla R. Stewart; Carl Bruner, Robby Haltiwanger; Willie Lopez, Fernando Contreras; Subway Ghost, Brandon Curry; Clara, Evette Marie White; Louise, Lydia Warr; Mrs. Santiago, Hana Freeman; Ortisha, Shannan E. Johnson; ensemble, Fernando Contreras, Brandon Curry, Hana Freeman, Shannan E. Johnson, Omar Garibay, Susan Leilanni Gearou, Tony Johnson, Beth Stafford Laird, Ben Laxton, Jake Vander Linden, Michael McClure, Jack O’Brien, Andrea Rouch, Maria Cristina Slye, Lyda Warr, Evette Marie White.

Songs

Act I

“Here Right Now” – Molly, Sam, Carl

“Unchained Melody” – Sam

“More” – Carl, Ensemble

“Three Little Words” – Molly, Sam

“You Gotta Let Go” – Hospital Ghost, Ensemble

“Sam’s Lament” – Sam

“Are You a Believer?” – Clara, Louise, Mrs. Santiago, Oda Mae

“With You” – Molly

“Suspend My Disbelief”/“I Had a Life” – Molly, Carl, Sam, Ensemble

Act II

“Rain”/“Hold On” – Molly, Sam, Ensemble

 

“Unchained Melody (Reprise)” - The Righteous Brothers, Sam

 

“Life Turns on a Dime” – Carl, Molly, Sam

“Focus” – Subway Ghost

“Talkin’ ’Bout a Miracle” – Hospital Ghost, Oda Mae, Ensemble

“Nothing Stops Another Day” – Molly

“I’m Outta Here” – Oda Mae, Ensemble

“Unchained Melody (Reprise)” – Sam, Molly

***

The story is fascinating in a what-if way. What if a guy gets murdered and comes back as a ghost because there’s unfinished business, like telling his live-in girlfriend, “I love you.” If you want to puke at the sappiness in that, that’s okay by me. It is what it is in the story. It’s interesting seeing Sam, the murdered guy, learn the ropes of ghost-dom and weave his way through the living world and finally find a medium through which he can communicate with his true love, Molly. Sam runs into other ghosts, with ones he meets in the hospital and on the subway especially intriguing. I found myself morbidly curious about the handling of death and transformation. Suddenly, ghost characters stand outside their mortal remains and consider what’s happened. The scene is eerie and chilling and effective each time. That’s one thing that works in “Ghost The Musical.”

What also works is the depiction of an urban setting – all rush, rush, rush, and flash and action and drive and soul sucking. The projected designs and metropolis landscapes are part of a splash of special effects. The surging city and the hocus pocus of Sam and other ghosts are fused into the energy of the show, with dance (sometimes extraneous) also part of the muscle.

Illusions are important. With movies, everything is an illusion. On stage, illusions are much tougher to pull off because the fakery is easy to spot. “Ghost the Musical” does a good job of creating illusion through a bundle of techniques – sleight of hand, suspending people, moving through doors, transforming bodies, and so on.

The music style is often rock, coming from Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics and Glen Ballard of multiple hit songs. In “Ghost The Musical,” the style is limiting. When Katie Postotnik expresses the deep love Molly has for Sam, she shout-sings. The singing fits the style, but that style to me is shallow compared with so much that the rest of the musical theater world offers. When Steven Grant Douglas gets wound up as Sam, his voice similarly is overwrought. Molly and Sam’s songs come with the volume cranked up, as is VOLUME helps the audience feel the intensity of the characters’ emotions. Duh, no. Also, the volume of the overture is way out of line too high.

The production also has pleasures. Carla R. Stewart, as Oda Mae – the medium, a psychic – is spot on. The poke-in-the-eye colors of her clothes fit her vivid humor, confusion and street-wise sass. Her full-blast production number, “I’m Outta Here,” is among the best things going in the show. Performances of dark characters brightened my experience – Robby Haltiwanger as the two-faced office whiz, Fernando Contreras as the hit man and Brandon Curry as the Subway Ghost with extra powers. The subway scenes impress with their speedy theatricality.

The ending is not impressive. What musical ends without a song? “Ghost the Musical” ends with the oft-repeated “Unchained Melody” well past. The wonderful song – “Oh my love, My darling, I’ve hungered for your touch, A long lonely time” – is sung not particularly well throughout the show, except when heard on the radio by The Righteous Brothers.

VENUE: Thrivent Financial Hall is the main theater of Fox Cities Performing Arts Center on College Avenue in downtown Appleton. The capacity is 2,072. The seating area is in the shape of a horse shoe, with three balconies following the shape. The stage is 60 feet across and 40 feet high. The décor features Veneciano plaster walls with dark-stained cherry wood. In the oval dome ceiling is a 65-foot long chandelier that is reminiscent of the Art Deco era. The design includes ruby inserts in the opaque cream-colored glass. Flowing along the walls up to the chandelier are parallel metal pipes as if of a musical instrument. Flat walls in the front third of the hall are salmon colored, while red pleated theatrical curtains dominate the rest of the side walls. The white acoustic wing over the stage looks like the underside of a sci-fi spacecraft. The lobby area consists of lots of geometrics, glass and, on the ground level,   a feeling of openness and spaciousness. The exterior of the gray building features gentle curves. A large glass skylight is reminiscent of a human eye.

You may email me at warren.gerds@wearegreenbay.com. Watch for my on-air features on WFRV between 6 and 8 a.m. Sundays.

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