SAM AND MOLLY LEARN THE TRUE MEANING OF LOVE AND FAITH, AND ETERNAL HAPPINESS
I think I did see a ghost at the Dean Leshers Vukasin Theatre, I mean it is in the basement of sorts at the Walnut Creek Performance center. “OMG I Love that Show” company has one more weekend of Ghosts on stage through March 5th at the Studio Vukasin Stage at the Dean Lesher Center for the Arts. The Bay Area premiere of “GHOST THE MUSICAL Just Believe” has a charming cast and is well directed by the company's Artistic Director Ryan Cowles. “GHOST THE MUSICAL is a love story that reminds us to believe, even if it seems impossible. Believe in love transcends time and dimension. Believe that love is truly the most extraordinary thing we experience in our short time together.” says Cowles.
The original film “Ghost,” starring Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore and Whoopi Goldberg in the role that won her an Oscar, was a crowd-pleasing box-office draw that over time has become something of a classic. Cowles and his creative team created a more intimate new revision of the West End and Broadway musical. With a smaller cast of ten, focusing on the central characters of the original story, with a six-piece chamber orchestra headed by Eryn Allen, and new acoustic versions of the songs. Despite its flaws the story is engaging and moving, and the music is memorable.
The story of a murdered man whose ghost teams up with a psychic in order to avenge his death and save his girlfriend, “Ghost” has a plot that seems over the top by modern standards but has the charm of Shakespeare’s mix of love and relationships. When the beloved love story made its journey to Broadway in 2012, as a musical, it was ridiculed for being emotionally over the top, and only lasted five months closing after a 136 performances. Director Cowles redesigned this strained plot with a new chamber size version and to fit on his black box stage. With help from the comedic shenanigans of, Michelle Ianiro, as the charming weasel psychic Oda Mae and the romantic chemistry between, Kipp Glass’s, Sam and, Melissa O’Keefe’s, Molly. These two talented singers and actors instill the music and lyrics of Dave Stewart of Eurythmics fame and his writing partner, Glen Ballard, who collaborated with Michael Jackson on “Thriller”. Screenwriter, Bruce Joel Rubin, gets credit for the book and lyrics that includes a mostly pop songs and a ballad score.
Ianiro, as the sassy psychic who is spooked by her own powers, can be very funny, in the song “Are You A Believer”, she brings the spirit of the music full course. As Carl the supposed friend of Sam’s, is played by the capable, Sam Leeper, who has one of the best voices in the cast, is evily excellent in the role. Not to spoil the plot, you don’t need to be a fan of the film to feel the love from this story. For anyone who saw the movie, it won’t come as a surprise that Sam is an active ghost. He forces the psychic Oda Mae Brown to become his corporeal muse, maneuvering her to talk with Molly and warn her about impending dangers. Shocked to learn she can actually speak to a dead guy after years of scams and fake seances , Ianiro’s Oda Mae gets all the laugh lines and lands each of them with comic precision.
The likable Derek Travis Collard, who plays both a ghost and a detective, is a solid theatrical talent who brings a touch of irony to the story. The song “High Spirits” features the company under Eryn Allen's musical direction and Leslie Waggoner’s ideal choreography. Waggoner choreographs dances that show off both the energy of this standout ensemble and the score, which ranges from classics “Unchained Melody” sung with strength by Glass, to likable soft rock “Right Here Now” pitch perfect by Glass and O’Keefe. The rousing ballad “Suspended My Disbelief” with Leeper and company is dramatic and a sample how at times the music book goes over the top. Mighty, plays the train ghost and adds a bit of hip hop to the number “Focus” when Sam learns how to direct his anger to his special hidden ghost skills. Mighty, shows off his acrobatic dance skills and the efficient actor flys across the small black box stage with ease.
Heather Warren is savvy as the bank officer and other characters, along with the clever character actor, Mark Enea, who plays the shooter villain Willie Lopez. The vibrant Kirsten Torkildson, plays Louise one of Oda Mae Brown's assistants and is magnetic in “I’m Outta Here” with the enthusiastic, Debra Harvey, and Ianiro. The craft team for this evening of Ghosts had a major task to bring some special effects to create some twists in gun shots and body doubles. Valerie Pope’s lighting design is a perfect mix with Michael Doppe’s projections as Sam enters and exits in his ghost form. Pope’s lights set the mood with great use of rows of spots pointing toward the audience.
Bethany Deal’s costumes are all of a piece with the mood and tone of the show, she kept the dead on stage all in grey tones, and colorful pastels for the cast not ghosts. Deal's look for Lopez kept him dark and a scary mystery while Oda Mae’s look was full of spirit and beads. Lyle Barrere sound design is crisp and smart with gunshots and inner city sounds. Mark Mendelson contributes an efficient and minimal set that moves easy to show the “needs work” appartment, to the urban streets of Brooklyn. Fight choreographer Justin DuPuis brings some excellent fight scenes between Sam, Carl and Willie.
GHOST THE MUSICAL channels the supernatural to investigate the meaning of love and loss, and it is very likable and emotional. The OMG cast gives it enough pizzazz to make it all enjoyable. This is my third film to stage musical this 2017 season and it is only February, beginning with “Silence” at Ray of Light and “Billy Elliot” at the Berkeley Playhouse. The film to stage redcarpet has been popular with some new projects in the wings including a musical version of “Groundhogs Day” and now on Broadway “A Bronx Tale”. This production of GHOST THE MUSICAL may have some weak points but deep down it is about true power of love and faith and in the end will win you over. Next up from “OMG I love That Show” is the END OF THE RAINBOW a comedy with a glorious juke box of Judy Garland classics - it opens March 31st.
OMG I Love That Show! Presents
‘GHOST THE MUSICAL’
By Bruce Joel Rubin, Dave Stewart
and Glen Ballard,
Based on the movie by BJ Rubin
Directed by Ryan Cowles,
Music Director Eryn Allen
Choreographed by Leslie Waggoner
Closes March 5
Lesher Center for the Arts, Studio Theatre
601 Civic Drive, Walnut Creek
Running time: 2 hours and 20 minutes, one intermission
Tickets: $39-$44; 925-943-7469,
Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/events/403475580043722/
Pictures by Flegel Photos