When I got the exciting news that Ghost, The Musical would be performed at Tennessee Performing Arts Center (TPAC) this year, my first thought, after YAY!,was that there is no way they can take this epic movie and pull it off in a live production without it being hokey, the paranormal effects too unrealistic, too unbelievable- okay, maybe that doesn't sound quite right when talking about ghosts, but still, it had to be “real” enough not to look like Casper floating across the stage.
My other concern was that Oda Mae's character, played so brilliantly by Whoopi Goldberg in the movie, wouldn't be portrayed as the stupendously funny and pivotal central figure around which all other characters turn, and wouldn't be as vivid nor as mind-numbingly hilarious as the legendary actress/comedienne Goldberg played her to be.
I knew I'd be watching this production carefully, ready to blast the airways if they messed up one of my favorite movie characters ever, not to mention that I hold a high standard where Miss Goldberg is concerned, being that she is my favorite actor, comedienne and talk-show host of all time and her part in Ghost one of my favorite of all her roles (with Sister Act! being my favorite and it's coming to TPAC in a couple of weeks.)
As soon as I walked into Tennessee Performing Arts Center (TPAC) and saw the onstage screen, portraying the play's young lovers, Sam Wheat and Molly Jenson, played by Steven Grant Douglas and Katie Postotnik in the musical, with a stream running under them in living photo style (a still photo with “live” moving effects), I had high hopes that the show was going to be technologically advanced, hopefully enough to come through with some “realistic” paranormal effects; maybe this wasn't going to be hokey after all? Dare I also hope that my Oda Mae character would be alive, well and spitting fire too?
I didn't have long to wait to have my first question answered. The effects started out immediately, from taking you on a crazy wild ride right through the buildings of New York City to “snapshots” taken during the young couple's relationship zooming at you, seeming to pop right off the stage and into the audience – all while giving you a little historical look into the couple's romantic history. This was starting out fantastic.
Soon, I was enveloped in the story, which though interspersed with tons of musical numbers, stayed extremely true to the narrative and flow of the original Ghost movie. The story was as good as ever; you know, boy loves girl, girl loves boy, boy gets killed and comes back as a spirit to avenge his death and give girl closure. Oh, and said ghost finds a psychic to run interference for him.
See how quickly I got to the Whoopi Goldberg character I so love? Oh Oda Mae, or I guess I should say Oh Miss Goldberg, I so hate to compare anyone to you, but this actor, one Carla R. Stewart, tore the house down with her portrayal of Miss Oda. I hesitate to say she did at least as good a job as you, because you are, well, Whoppi Goldberg, but I'm forced to say, in journalistic truth, that she took that character, gave her the same oomph and spunk as you, added a little spark and sputter of her own and created a believably unbelievable character, sold it to the entire audience and made us think, Whoopi who?
Okay, so maybe I didn't poll the audience on that one, but it was abundantly apparent who the crowd favorite was when the cast took their bows at the end of the evening. When it came to Miss Stewart's turn, the audience spontaneously thundered with enthusiastic approval and love for the actor and her brilliant rendition of Miss Oda Mae Brown. No applause meter needed to see who in the cast stole the show.
Stewart was definitely the highlight of last night's performance, but there was one other standout in the form of one Subway Ghost, played by Brandon Curry, a territorial, perhaps schizophrenic – and really, really angry ghost who spouts out a how-to-move-things-if-you-are-dead number called “Focus”, sung/spoken at lightening speed as he jumped from place to place just as quickly. I can't explain it any better than that. You have to experience it to understand it, but suffice it to say that in that three or four minute number, this man's stardom shined through and true, making him someone I will look for in future performances.
And so you know, the paranormal effects were outstanding, sometimes making it difficult to tell what was real and what was on that mysterious ghostly plane, and done in a way that was so far from hokey that I almost felt ashamed I had even thought it. As if TPAC would lower their standards to anything less than brilliant.
So, needless to say, it is an incredible performance, one you should most definitely not dare miss. I advise you to walk, jump – heck, float even, to tpac.org and get your tickets for this one now. It's bound to sell out. Ghost, The Musical is playing in Andrew Jackson Theatre at TPAC February 26 through March 2. Find more info, check out TPAC's calendar of Broadway shows and other events and purchase tickets at nashvillesymphony.org