Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Ghost: The Musical Glitters at the Old Log Theater

Let me tell you of my love for big Hollywood films that are adapted for the stage. 

Photo courtesy of Old Log Theatre

It all starts with my childhood. I grew up in rural Minnesota, where even movie theaters were few and far between, much less fancy theatrical shows. The most theater I was exposed to generally would be a single annual community theater production of a family favorite such as Beauty and the Beast or Oliver! or, when I was really lucky, I got to see a show at the Chanhassen Dinner Theatre on a school trip. I also grew up in a large family, which meant that buying tickets to shows (or even movie theaters) could get very expensive, very quickly. 

So it goes without saying that I didn't grow up going out very often. When we did it was a real event, even if the "trip" was just to go see a movie. Most of the movies that got us out of the house were big blockbusters like Harry Potter, Star Wars or Lord of the Rings (Wonder Woman would have fallen neatly into this theme). Often our weekend entertainment was watching movies on syndicated cable channels, which is how I first saw Ghost

Photo courtesy of Old Log Theatre

I can't help but think of this history every time I see such a film adapted to the stage. Are these shows cheesy? Of course. Are they overwrought? Duh. Do I love them? Almost always. Every time I get to see a Ghost or The Bodyguard (which, seriously guys - if it comes back, go see it! So good, my review will tell you), it reminds me of the fun I had seeing such movies - any movie - with my family and friends in my small town. I also think such shows are a great entree into the world of theater for people who are generally intimidated by the concept. The stories are friendly and familiar, they're guaranteed to have great pop songs or special effects, and it feels like less of a burden to make an hours-long-one-way-drive to go see it in the big city than something more frou frou like Cabaret or Les Miserables. Don't get me wrong, I love those too, but let's be real: the everyman's show they ain't. 

Photo courtesy of Old Log Theatre

For anyone who feels like me (or just needs something escapist to watch), Ghost: The Musical is currently playing at the Old Log Theater through September 21, and it's the perfect way to beat the heat this summer. If you're unfamiliar with the film (but it's got Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore, Tony Goldwyn before Scandal and even won Whoopi Goldberg an Oscar so get on it!), here's the plot: Sam Wheat is a man leading a charmed life with his live-in girlfriend Molly Jensen. He has a great relationship, successful job, good friends and beautiful new apartment in pre-gentrified Brooklyn. All of this takes a dark turn, however, when Sam is mugged one night and killed in the process. It turns out the mugging isn't a simple robbery and instead was a set-up from someone he never would have expected. In order to avenge his untimely death and protect the love of his life, Sam haunts this person until the full circumstances behind his murder are revealed, all of the wrongs are righted, he kisses Molly goodbye, and he is able to assume his rightful place in heaven. Along the way he befriends an eccentric psychic named Oda Mae Brown, whose clairvoyance is instrumental in helping Sam attain justice. 

Photo courtesy of Old Log Theatre

In Old Log's production, Frank Moran stars as the buoyant Sam Wheat. Frank was previously seen as Elvis in Million Dollar Quartet, and he brings the same swivel-hipped swagger to his role here. Frank serves surprisingly well in Patrick Swayze's iconic role, and I was impressed by the energy he brought to his performance. Starring alongside Frank is Mollie Fischer, playing Sam's girlfriend Molly Jensen. Mollie can be a little pitchy but has a lot of heart, bringing more strength and independence to her role here than the original on screen; her portrayal will appeal greatly to any country music fans. Mathias Becker is fitfully villainous as Sam's friend Carl Bruner, with the appropriately snobby attitude (and abs to match). Heather McElrath is delightful as Oda Mae Brown and provides many of the show's most comedic scenes with a winsome smile. The rest of the cast makes the most of their many appearances as tangentials and ghosts, and they manage to really make the stage into a slice of New York City with their energy and verve. 

Photo courtesy of Old Log Theatre

There is a lot going on here set and effects-wise. The set (which is constantly moving) is backdropped by inner-lit panels of window that change colors or receive projections periodically to help place the action in separate boroughs. Sam's apartment features the requisite pottery wheel (which is used to great effect in Act 1), and everything is used efficiently. The staging can get really busy at times, so be prepared, but there are some really cool moments too (for example, in the way everyone "rides" an elevator together early in the show). I think a lot of this will settle down as the performers get more comfortable. There were also some severe sound issues at our performance - turn down that keyboard! - but again, nothing that can't (and I'm sure won't) be fixed quickly. 

Photo courtesy of Old Log Theatre

Ghost is a relic of cinema in 1990 that has aged surprisingly well. The story is still pretty engaging and it was nice to see an old faithful on stage (there may have been some teary eyes at the end of the show). There are some elements here that trouble - some of the stereotypes in portrayal of the extras, for example, and do we *really* need to have a white woman parody a Latina? Really? - and it's a little hard to tell if those are scripted or directorial choices at all times. Still, Ghost represents a huge step forward for the Old Log. At the Twin Cities Theater Blogger talk back after the show I counted 7 women and 5 people of color on stage out of a total cast of 12 - that's a ratio that many theaters in Minneapolis or St. Paul struggle to achieve - and while I don't think this cast is always utilized to their fullest potential, it's still a great progression to see.

Let's be clear: Ghost is never going to be the next Les Miserables. But that's okay! It doesn't have to be. For anyone who thinks theater is too snobby or elitist or needs something a little more candy-coated than the usual fare, Ghost: The Musical provides all the star-studded treacle you could ever want. For more information or to buy tickets, click on this link

And while we're at it, check out some other famous films that I enjoyed on stage: 
And plenty more - check the archives at right!