"Ghost the Musical," Now at the Beck Center, Lacks a Certain Melodic Flair but Delivers the Ghostly Goods

Yes, the pottery wheel makes an appearance

click to enlarge "Ghost the Musical," Now at the Beck Center, Lacks a Certain Melodic Flair but Delivers the Ghostly Goods
Photo by Roger Mastroianni

If you're a woman of a certain age and you were watching films around 1990, you may have a cob-webbed pottery wheel stuck somewhere in a corner of your basement. That artifact might be a tribute to the scene in the Oscar-winning film Ghost, in which Patrick Swayze as Sam and Demi Moore as Molly portrayed lovers who turned a shared spin at DIY pottery into iconic sexy-time.

While she straddled a pottery wheel in a flimsy outfit, they mutually caressed a wet mound of clay into a messy phallic creation—all to the sultry crooning of "Unchained Melody" by the Righteous Brothers. Patrick and Demi emerged clay-spotted and happy, as did many film attendees who were then hot to capture that kind of clay-magic with their own pottery equipment.

Flash forward three decades and we now have Ghost the Musical, now at Beck Center. This version is identical in many respects since the book and lyrics are by Bruce Joel Rubin, who won the Academy Award for best screenplay for the film. With music by Dave Stewart and music by Glen Ballard (plus additional lyrics from each), this production has multiple high points and might even squeeze a tear or two from the doomed love story at its heart. But the music itself is so aggressively banal, it makes you long for just one more lyricist with a bit of edge.

The irrepressible Molly is the girlfriend of young banker Sam and they just moved into a New York City flat featuring a huge skylight. Just as we're getting to know them, Sam is killed during a mugging and the devastated Molly is soothed by Sam's co-worker and their mutual pal, Carl (Mike Bindeman) as she tries to deal with her loss.

Meanwhile, Sam is trying to navigate his toe-tagged world and soon finds his virtual self in the above-grass salon of fortune-telling huckster Oda Mae Brown, who can hear him but can't see him. As they say, complications ensue as Carl's true nature is revealed and disembodied Sam tries to save Molly and his eternal soul, with Oda Mae's grudging assistance.

As sassy Oda Mae, veteran Cleveland actor Colleen Longshaw is ideal, nailing her punch lines with carnivorous relish. And her two featured songs, the Gospel-infused zinger "Are You a Believer" and her extraneous-but-fun Act Two number "I'm Outta Here" keep the show's energy up.

As the ill-fated lovers, Jessi Kirtley and Mark Doyle promise some genuine chemistry, but Sam is dispatched too soon, so the actors never have a chance to get their groove on. Sam is left to scream helplessly at Molly, his character apparently unable to register that no one except Oda Mae can hear him, until the very end.

The rest of the young leads and chorus members, many of whom are students at Baldwin Wallace University's renowned Theatre and Dance Program, display their substantial singing talents. A standout in that group is Danny Bó, who portrays a jittery subway ghost who overcomes his hostility (he's pissed that someone shoved him under a subway car) to teach Sam how to psychically move objects and terrify the living.

The only major departure from the film is that the pottery wheel scene happens after Sam is dead, rendering their muddy, erotic hand-wrestling less compelling. Also, present throughout are workmanlike melodies with their soft-focus lyrics. Such as Molly's solo "Nothing Stops Another Day:" "Because the world keeps turning/And I guess it always will/I can choose to turn around/or I can choose to just stand still." See, it made me yawn again.

Of course, a show involving ghosts would seem to call for some special effects. and while the transitions from life to death are handled smoothly on stage with a minimum of fuss, other tricks such as walking through walls and closed doors come off a bit lame. And when a character or two is sent to Hell through a small intensely lit room, it looks more like an airport security kiosk with a short in the lighting system.

Even with the glitches, director Victoria Bussert keeps the story clicking along and Lauren Tidmore's choreography—featuring stylized, sharp-angled moves often accessorized with briefcases—captures a big city vibe.

The result is a Ghost the Musical that, while less than stirring melodically, is eager to please and has enough solid performances to deliver the ghostly goods. Now excuse me, I gotta find my damn pottery wheel.

Ghost the Musical
Through February 26 at the Beck Center, 17801 Detroit Ave., Lakewood, beckcenter.org, 216-521-2540.
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Christine Howey

Christine Howey has been reviewing theater since 1997, first at Cleveland Free Times and then for other publications including City Pages in Minneapolis, MN and The Plain Dealer. Her blog, Rave and Pan, also features her play reviews. Christine is a former stage actor and director, primarily at Dobama Theatre...
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