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Daily Pilot

On Theater: 'Ghost' retains silver-screen glow

By Tom Titus

1:44 PM PDT, July 30, 2014

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It's a safe bet that no one ventured a thought in 1990, when "Ghost" first hit movie theaters, that this would be a great plot for a live stage musical.

Since then, shows like "Legally Blonde" and "Dirty Dancing" have made such a transition, but "Ghost" was another story. Some amazing, and believable, technical effects would be required to pull off such a show successfully.

These barriers have been overcome, quite spectacularly, with the emergence of "Ghost The Musical," now haunting audiences at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts. Technical effects bordering on awesome dominate this faithful retelling of a modern-day melodrama in which a good dead guy can triumph over a bad living one.

Most theatergoers, it's presumed, will have witnessed the cinematic version, so it's hardly a spoiler to recount the plot, which sees banker Sam Wheat (Steven Grant Douglas) mugged and killed on a dark street as his lady love, Molly (Katie Postotnik), watches in horror.

But while Sam may be dead, his spirit lives on to solve his murder and nail a nefarious buddy (Robby Haltiwanger) for the crime, with the aid of a pseudo psychic (Carla R. Stewart) who ramps up the lofty bar set by Whoopi Goldberg in her Oscar-winning movie performance.

The cast is excellent — particularly Postotnik's vocalizing, when she's not drowned out by the overanxious orchestra — but this evening belongs to Jon Driscoll, who designed the remarkable video projections, and Paul Kieve, who came up with the ghostly illusions, which include physical combat on a speeding subway train (seen from two viewpoints). They lend credence to a story that demands the proverbial willing suspension of disbelief.

Douglas in particular projects a panorama of emotions as he progresses from astonishment to acceptance to avenging angel, discovering his best friend's egregious scheme and learning how to oppose it. He's especially effective when, unseen, he wreaks havoc on his former buddy's office in a manner recalling the vintage comedy "Blithe Spirit."

The plaintive voice of Postotnik in her many romantic laments lifts the show musically, yet so much more could be offered if only musical director Matthew Smedal would tone down the volume so her lyrics could be understood. She throws herself energetically into the action, and her gradual acceptance of Sam's ghostly presence is splendidly enacted.

The show's comedic aspects are handled beautifully by Stewart as the psychic con artist, who, to her surprise, can communicate with Sam. Her reluctance to part with a check worth millions of dollars sparks a terrific comedic exchange, and her physical and vocal energy vigorously accelerate the action.

Haltiwanger balances his good-guy persona of the opening scenes with his frightening personality change as Sam discovers his duplicity. Also impressive are Fernando Contreras as Sam's killer, a Puerto Rican street thug, and Brandon Curry as the mercurial subway ghost who opposes but then supports Sam's mission. His is a truly mesmerizing presence.

Yes, "Unchained Melody" makes an appearance, but it's used more as background music for the romantic sequences. The stunning, whiz-bang technical effects rule director Matthew Warchus' exhilarating production.

You may have seen the movie version a dozen times, but there are thrills and chills aplenty awaiting in this electrifying stage production of "Ghost The Musical."

TOM TITUS reviews local theater for the Daily Pilot.

If You Go

What: "Ghost the Musical"

Where: Segerstrom Center for the Arts, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa

When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturdays, 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sundays until Aug.10

Cost: Start at $25

Information: (714) 556-2787 or http://www.scfta.org