Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Theater Review: Ghost -- The Bushnell

Steven Grant Douglas. Photo: Joan Marcus..
Bad Guys, Some Illusions Highlight Tour of Ghost, the Musical
By Lauren Yarger
We’re not supposed to like Carl Bruner. He’s the bad guy. But in the tour of Ghost, the musical, stopping to close out the Broadway season at the Bushnell, we just can’t help ourselves.

And we kind of like Willie Lopez, the other bad guy who does Carl’s bidding too. Loyalties are messed up here, because Robby Haltiwanger (Carl) and Fernando Contreras (Willie) are so good at being bad – and they stand out in an otherwise mediocre film-to-stage rendition of the beloved film starring Demi Moore, Patrick Swayze and Whoopi Goldberg.

Come to think of it, we also bond with the story’s other less-than-reputable character, Oda Mae Brown, a con artist, fake psychic who discovers, to her amazement, that she really does have the gift, played here with sarcastic humor by Carla R. Stewart.

Haltiwanger commands the stage and expertly conveys the lust for wealth and success that leads the banker to hire Willie to rob his friend Sam Wheat so he can obtain passwords to accounts holding money he is laundering for the mob. Haltiwanger also brings energy and a talented singing voice to the tunes written by Grammy Award-winners Dave Stewart (half of the Eurythmics) and Glen Ballard (Man In The Mirror, Jagged Little Pill).

Contreras’s role is minor, but he stands out with a menacing drive that has us fearing for Molly (Kate Postotnik) when Willie breaks into her loft to find the passwords he didn’t get when he murdered the love of her life, Sam (Stephen Grant Douglas). We also fear for Molly when evil Carl starts making moves on her, urging her to move on and forget Sam.

But Sam is there in the form of a ghost (thanks to illusions by Paul Kieve, Video and Projection Design by Jon Driscoll, lighting design by Hugh Vanstone and sound design by Bobby Aitken) and as he discovers the truth about his murder, he concocts a plan with Oda Mae, who is the only one able to hear him, to thwart Carl.

Also standing out in minor parts are Oda Mae’s sisters, Clara and Louise (Evette Marie Whit and Lydia Warr), and the subway ghost (Brandon Curry), who gives Sam lessons on how to turn poltergeist. The other ghosts who show up to sing really dumb lyrics and do really dumb choreography (by Ashley Wallen) should be sent to purgatory, however, or at least to a documentary on why film movies don’t always work well as stage musicals.

For fans of the movie, a lot of the key elements survive. Bruce Joel Rubin (“The Time Traveler’s Wife” and “Jacob’s Ladder”) recreates his Academy-Award-winning screenplay for the stage, so the pottery scene, “ditto,” and “Unchained Melody,” written by Hy Zaret and Alex North, are in there.

What doesn’t materialize, besides Demi Moore’s cute little haircut (why did Director Matthew Warchus insist Molly have long, blonde curls when we all want to see that short, brunette bouncy do?) is a love story we can get teary about. Postotnik is believable, but Douglas is totally miscast in a part that’s too big for him, and both performers at times appear to struggle with the singing. It’s hard to tell though, because the sound mix isn’t good and solos often are drowned out by the musicians or chorus.

We also don’t see a bond develop between Sam and Oda Mae. Worse, there is no chemistry between Sam and Molly and we don’t buy them as a couple whose love is so strong that it transcends worlds. Without that, and the neat magic tricks (the  ones which aren't totally obvious), this telling of Ghost would be rather transparent if it weren’t for those really good villains.

Ghost plays at The Bushnell, 166 Capitol Ave., Hartford, through June 15; Thursday at 7:30 pm; Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 2 pm and 8 pm; Sunday at 1 pm and 6 pm. Tickets $22-$85 (860) 860-987-5900; www.bushnell.org.

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)

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