TAMPA — Ghost, that 1990 otherworldly lovefest with Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore, won Academy Awards. It grossed some $500 million at the box office. People still enjoy it, still cue it up to watch in their jammies. It had everything going for it.
So did it really have to be a stage musical, too? Not every Disney starlet needs a record deal and a line of flavored lip gloss. Not every kid on the soccer field needs a trophy. And while some films lend themselves to reinvention on stage, some don't, and at a certain point, can't we just be happy with what we have?
The answer is no. Ghost the Musical's non-equity tour opened at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts on Tuesday. The adaptation, which originated in England and had a short run on Broadway, didn't lack for audience members eager to see their favorite film played out in real time. Unfortunately, Ghost the Musical was a self-indulgent, limping bore splattered to death with distracting special effects.
Lovers Sam Wheat and Molly Jensen (Steven Grant Douglas and Katie Postotnik) make out several times in the first 10 minutes, which we are supposed to mistake for actual chemistry. They have nothing in common, a romantic trope that can work as long as there's a palpable spark. There is not.
It's not long before Molly is dragging Sam to an art show he's not into, and begging Sam to tell her he loves her instead of saying "ditto" like a disengaged bro. Just when we think, "Molly could do so much better," Sam is killed in an act of street violence. It's not exactly the height of dramatic agony when the big moment happens.
You know the rest. He's a ghost now, but one caught in the ether, not ready to cross over until he gets some information to Molly. He spends the rest of the show cast in pallid blue lights, lurking strangely in the background like the giant Easter Bunny at the Obamas' White House celebration. He can't grab door knobs, but he can sit on a chaise longue and jump on tables.
The songs, a mix of pop, rap, gospel and rock tunes from Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics and Glen Ballard, who wrote Jagged Little Pill with Alanis Morissette, feel sparse over two acts. There are several incarnations of Unchained Melody (including one with a key change and rock drums so you know it's serious). Postotnik has a lovely voice with cool pop texture, which she shows off on With You. It's too bad the blocking has her sitting still on the floor clutching a pillow the whole time.
But there is good news. Oda Mae Brown, the unwitting psychic medium character Whoopi Goldberg won an Oscar for playing, is cast magnificently here in Carla R. Stewart. She is funny, so bright and bold that every moment she's not on stage feels like a moment waiting for her to come back. The show finally springs to some life when we visit her psychic shop during Are You a Believer, and later in a fun, glittering disco jam, I'm Outta Here.
Then she leaves, waa-waa, and it's back to sad stew. The show minus Oda Mae is impossibly self-serious, with no sense of humor about its dancing ghosts in period leather aviator hats and powdered wigs. The ensemble members seem like they just want to get through it.
The litany of screens and fog and special effects imagery is definitely impressive, with a few staggering moments that will leave you wondering how they pulled it off. But it's all ultimately heavy-handed, a distraction from things that are lacking. While the dancers are dancing, we see more dancers dancing on screen, city skylines zipping by, flashes of flesh and handsy hands.
We don't even get a break from the digital assault during a version of Ghost's signature pottery wheel scene, a moment that has the potential to be so simple and sexy. Something that was so simple and sexy. The first time.
Stephanie Hayes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8716.