Dead men walk through doors. Faceless shrieking demons arise from hell. An evening at the pottery wheel turns into a torrent of unbridled eroticism.
Old Log Theater
On the face of it, Ghost the Musical doesn’t seem to play to the strengths of the Old Log Theatre. And yet, director Eric Morris has crafted a winning production that provides pure popcorn value for summertime audiences looking to beat the heat with a couple hours of escapist fantasy.
Dave Stewart (Eurythmics) and Glen Ballard (“Man in the Mirror,” “Hand In My Pocket”) wrote the music for this 2011 musical adaptation of the hit 1990 film. Bruce Joel Rubin adapted his own Oscar-winning screenplay into a script that closely follows the movie, save a few nips and tucks to smooth the action.
Though Patrick Swayze’s feathery haircut is a little dated (Demi Moore’s pixie cut remains iconic), the film still by and large holds up, due in large part to Rubin’s skill at parlaying a simple premise — a man dies in a mugging, and his spirit stays behind to protect his girlfriend — into a tense thriller that also finds time to milk the situation for genuine LOLs.
In the movie, those come courtesy of Whoopi Goldberg, who won an Oscar for her performance as Oda Mae Brown: a storefront psychic who’s annoyed to discover, when Swayze’s character Sam succeeds in reaching her from beyond the grave, that she’s not actually a fraud. Oda Mae’s dry quips bring the Old Log’s house down when delivered by Heather McElrath, who superbly translates the character to the stage.
The eminently confident McElrath makes a good foil for the tense Frank Moran, who started Saturday’s opening-night performance a little stiff as Sam but loosened up as the evening went on. Moran played Elvis in the Old Log’s recent production of Million Dollar Quartet, a fact that’s acknowledged in a rare theatrical Easter egg when Sam slips into Vegas mode for a few bars while serenading his lover, Molly.
Molly is played by Mollie Fischer, who pairs appealingly with Moran: the two put a much more fun, youthful spin on the characters than the statuesque film stars did. A convincingly desperate-looking Mathias Becker gets the role of Sam’s frenemy Carl, while China Brickey and Caitlynn Daniels enliven the plum parts of Oda Mae’s sisters Louise and Clara. (Children’s Theatre vet Brickey was also a supporting-cast standout in Penumbra’s Girl Shakes Loose, and someone needs to give her a juicy leading role ASAP.)
The songs aren’t that great, but they’re also not that bad, and, in a few cases, notably Oda Mae’s exuberant “I’m Outta Here,” they give the characters more room to develop than the film afforded. The lead vocals were low in the mix on Saturday, sometimes to the point of being inaudible, but hopefully that will be adjusted as the run continues.
The Old Log’s production is well-calibrated to maximize the value of its cozy (by musical theater standards) space, and makes up in fun and invention what it lacks in high-tech gadgetry. Sam’s ghostly inability to connect with the physical world is nicely choreographed, and the frequent set changes are accomplished by way of rolling self-illuminated wall sections that get more mileage than a Bite Squad driver on Super Bowl Sunday.
A small, busy ensemble of actors do double duty as stagehands, donning costumes that suggest an eclectic array of spirits lingering in our earthly realm. Those supporting spirits do a little too much loitering (could Sam and Molly have a moment of privacy for “Unchained Melody,” please?), and the demons from hell are underwhelming (despite the actors’ best attempts to convincingly cower from swooshing spotlights), but all in all, the musical’s supernatural side comes off well.
The Old Log’s Ghost is a guilty-pleasure crowd-pleaser with a lot of heart. By the time Sam makes his final exit, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to turn to your companions and call them out for misting up a little. Just don’t be surprised if they respond, “Ditto.”