GHOST (Media Theatre): Animating a corpse

Republished from NealsPaper with kind permission.

Jesse Cline has many talents as a theater director, but his forte is bringing characters forward and getting to the core of their personal stories.

The musical GHOST did not get the most favorable reception in either London nor New York. The by-the-numbers, you-heard-this-rhythm-before music by Dave Stewart and Glen Ballard is tritely mediocre with few high points, surprising because of Stewart’s credentials with the rock group, The Eurythmics. The outstanding moments in Cline’s production derive less from a burst of inspired composition than from the sincere performances of Zack Krajnyak and Anna Giordano as the leads. J.P. Dunphy nails a breakout opportunity in which he electrifies the Media stage with “Focus,” a number in which one ghost teaches another who use his spectral powers in more concrete ways. One song that will stay in your mind is the ’50s classic, “Unchained Melody” (from the 1955 prison movie, “Unchained”), because Krajnyak constantly croons the Al Hibbler-Righteous Brothers hit as his personal love song to Giordano.

Anna Giordano as Molly and Zack Krajnyak as Sam in "the pottery scene". Photo by Maura McConnell.
Anna Giordano as Molly and Zack Krajnyak as Sam in “the pottery scene”. Photo by Maura McConnell.

If Stewart and Ballard’s score is unimpressive, GHOST’s lyrics, by the composers and Bruce Joel Rubin, are prime examples of why so many new musicals lack the luster of the days before rock replaced semi-classical as the basis for show music. Poetry or storytelling is absent. Stewart, Ballard, and Rubin string the most hackneyed of sentimental phrases together and call it lyric. One gets tired of the kind of stock, banal thoughts that pepper these songs. “I must go on.” “I must be me.” “I love him so” “When will he know?” Not to mention that age-old favorite, the rhyming of “together” with “forever.”

Yet redemption is possible. Rubin wrote the original screenplay for the 1990 movie, Ghost, the basis for this musical, and he transfers all of the romance and comedy of that script to his book. Jesse Cline, who is skilled at drawing out romance and in staging comedy makes the most this advantage. Krajnyak and Giordano are so believable as a couple deeply in love, you don’t worry about the words they’re singing and concentrate on the passion with which they’re expressing their characters’ feelings. Yes, a lot of what they sing might be just as effectively spoken, but Krajnyak’s emotion and Giordano’s inner thoughts, combined with her splendidly pitched, mellifluous voice make the composers’ drivel palatable and even moving. When Rubin’s script dominates, Cline’s GHOST touches your heart.

Palpable, affecting romance is only the beginning of how Cline’s “Ghost” pushes aside compositional flaws and shows why in the theater, the individual production is always more important than a script or score.

Tamara Anderson has the unenviable task of playing the role for which the incomparable Whoopi Goldberg earned an Oscar for Ghost. From the beginning, when we see Oda Mae in her Spanish Harlem juju parlor, ferreting out enough information to convince gullible dupes she is communing with the dead — people they want to contact for reasons ranging from expressions of love to apologies for causing the deceased’s demise — Anderson shows all the signs of the cunning con artist. She can reassure with the best of them. Anderson’s reaction is excellent when he she does hear from a dead person, Sam, who then realizes he can involve Oda Mae in a strategy to foil his killers, rescue Molly from likely harm, and keep the sidewalk psychic safe and out of jail as well. Anderson is consistently funny. Oda Mae’s sense of self-preservation, and her smell of a decent payday, is all Anderson needs to play her part with the finesse of a flim-flammer but with the comic timing and astute broadness of Lucille Ball or Flip Wilson. Anderson’s is a fine-etched complete performance that knows when to pull out all stops and when to keep the acting to a human, realistic level. And, yes, she gets a rousing, house-shaking number in “I’m Outta Here” near the end of the second act.

“Ghost” presents some technical and choreographic conundrums. Sam, being invisible and corporeally malleable, has to glide through doors. He has to learn to use some tangible powers a ghost is afforded, such as being able to touch another person or inhabit a living person’s body. Then, of course, there’s the issue of corpses, characters who have dialogue and whose parts require motion, after they have been shot to death.

Cline addresses all of these challenges brilliantly, physically and theatrically.

Tamara Anderson as Oda Mae Brown with Anna Giordano as Molly in GHOST. Photo by Maura McConnell.
Tamara Anderson as Oda Mae Brown with Anna Giordano as Molly in GHOST. Photo by Maura McConnell.

The ways the newly dead corpses arise from their stilled bodies shows the thought, adroitness, and theatrical savvy of Cline’s staging. Krajnyak, Dunphy, Seth Thompson, Nicholas Savarine, and others who portrayed ghosts emphasize the solidity of their bodies instead of trying to figure the posture and movements of an ectoplasmic form. The naturalness of their physical beings preserved some core of reality and make some scenes more palpable or touching.

Cline finds the value in GHOST and doesn’t let its musical or lyrical deficiencies stand in his way of making involving theater. Cline and company give the musical renewed life and prove it is a piece that earns a place on theater rosters. Stewart and Ballard did not make the chore easy, but a honest portrayal of sincere romance won out. Read the full review >> [Media Theatre, 104 E. State Street, Media, PA] March 4-29, 2015;

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