BY SANDY STAGGS
“Ghost: The Musical” may have opened on Halloween weekend, but anyone that has seen the Oscar-winning film knows (or watched it two dozen times like myself), the Ghost in this regional premiere at Centre Stage is hardly nefarious.
Primed with mystifying special effects by Upstate actor and illusionist JJ Pearson, an abundance of video projections on an array of carefully-choreographed moving screens, a dazzling light display by award-winning designer Maranda Debusk and Bruce Joel Rubin’s Oscar-winning source material, “Ghost” is a momentous achievement in theatrical magic.
David Bean and Paige ManWaring (last seen in “Jekyll and Hyde”) valiantly lead this production as stockbroker Sam Wheat and artist Molly Jenson (Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore in the 1990 film). And when the lovers are ambushed on a New York City street by hired-gun and petty thief Willie Lopez (Ray Jones in his first villain role), Sam’s spirit returns to save his girlfriend and solve his murder planned by his corrupt friend and co-worker Carl Brunner (Joshua Thomason).
Sam is aided in his quest by hocus-pocus psychic Oda Mae Brown (a truly boisterous Gisele Gathings of last season’s “Intimate Apparel” in the role that landed Whoopi Goldberg her Oscar for supporting actress), who, until now, has been conning desperate and bereaved customers along with her sisters (played by Beverly Clowney and Jensine Reeder).
Aside from minor updates from 1990 such as cellphones, the story is mostly taken line-for-line (including “Molly, you in danger girl!) from Rubin’s script. And that is this musical’s salvation.
The score was composed by Dave Stewart (of Eurythmics-fame but also producer of later albums by Stevie Nicks and Tom Petty) and Glen Ballard (Alanis Morissette, Michael Jackson, Christina Aguilera and others). But to say this mix of power ballads such as “Here Right Now” and “Three Little Words” (remember that one little word “Ditto!”) and the occasional novelty tune is groundbreaking or even memorable, would be a gross injustice. The 2012 Broadway version lasted for about four months.
Stewart’s hand is readily recognizable in stinging electric guitar riffs and sister-soul pop reminiscent of mid-career Eurythmics (“Would I Lie to You?” and “Missionary Man”).
Bean and ManWaring are at their finest when romancing and displaying their acting prowess. And they do their best with the mediocre songs handed to them. Fortunately, the love theme “Unchained Melody” made famous by the Righteous Brothers is intertwined throughout the show in various incarnations, including a lovely cello instrumental. At one point, Bean even performs it on acoustic guitar and is joined in by orchestrations from the track music.
The more interesting compositions are actually performed by supporting players like the dynamite LeRoy Kennedy as the Hospital Ghost (a 30 second part in the original film) with “You Gotta Let Go,” a bluesy rag number, and Gathings is hilarious in the inspirational gospel ditty “Are You a Believer?” and triumphant in “Talkin’ ‘Bout a Miracle.”
The ensemble members work overtime in “Ghost” and appear as multiple, multiple characters. Mary Evan Giles gives a unique feminine twist to the Subway Ghost (played by character actor Vincent Schiavelli in the movie version) and Celia Blitzer is glorious as the widow Mrs. Santiago.
Also in this impressive cast are newcomer Mary Pochatko, and a slew of familiar faces to Centre Stage patrons: Brian Reeder, Javy Pagan, Kristofer Parker, Michele Colletti and Morgan Voke-Thomason.
The infamous pottery wheel scene? Yes, it’s here, but not in its original position in the storyline and doesn’t quite maintain the same romantic intensity as the film, but it is satisfying enough. And the special effects are absolutely stupendous: Sam’s ghost moving through a solid door, as well as the shadowy creatures that carry off the bad guys to the pits of hell.
Kudos to costume designer Shannon Rossi for her exact replica of Goldberg’s fuchsia outfit and feathered hat when she assumes the identity of Rita Miller in the bank scene, as well as her silky print caftans for the Browns siblings.
This gargantuan spectacle is craftily directed by Centre Stage Executive Director Glenda ManWaring with music direction by Andre Webb and choreography by Michael Cherry. The abstract mica set design is by Ms. ManWaring and J. Baldwin with scenic painting by Ken Scar.
The many, and I do mean many, wigs and the make-up is by resident designer Victor DeLeon. Thom Seymour is technical director, Matt Polowczuk is sound engineer and Laura Nicholas is stage manager.
“Ghost: The Musical” continues Thursdays-Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. at Centre Stage, 501 River St. in Greenville. For tickets, call (864) 233-6733 or visit http://www.centrestage.org/.