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“Ghost: The Musical” (theatre review)

Anyone who was alive in the 90s is sure to remember the film Ghost, starring Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore, with the famous pottery spinning scene set to The Righteous Brothers' "Unchained Melody." You will also likely recall Whoopi Goldberg's Oscar-winning turn as the conning psychic Oda Mae Brown who communes with Swayze's recently departed Sam Wheat, and you'll definitely relive how the simple word "ditto" became all the linguistic rage.

All of those memories live on in the current production of the Seacoast Repertory Theatre's otherworldly staging of the 2012 musical that flopped on Broadway. Because of it's dead-on-arrival returns in its original form, it's a bold choice for SRT to take on, and despite clear evidence as to why the show didn't haunt The Big Apple for a long life, the team at SRT has raised it from the grave and reanimated it with joy, heart, and (last pun, I promise) life. It shouldn't surprise me, though, that they'd rise to the challenge, based on the other ballsy choices they have made this season (Parade, most recently).

Let's get the negatives out of the way first: the book (by Bruce Joel Rubin, who also wrote the screenplay) is a bit clunky and cheesy-theatrical. When Sam (Sean Mullaney) and Molly (Alyssa Dumas) are having a conversation about an art show, and she just switches gears apropos of nothing and says, "I think we should get married," I was expecting a light to come on over the audience that said "Exposition." Later, Sam's best friend, Carl (Sam Rogers) is going through his late friend's belongings and comes across an address book, and it made me ask, "Who, in 2023 (or even 2011, when the show debuted) still has address books?" But you expect some anachronisms and schmaltz in theatre, particularly in a show is essentially a romance, so I could mostly suspend my disbelief there.

No musical can be reviewed without talking about the songs, of course, penned by Dave Stewart (of the 80s synth-pop band The Eurythmics) and hitmaker Glenn Ballard. Despite this powerful team-up, the melodies are mostly middling. The forgettable pop is at times screechy and repetitive, but there is also an oddly-placed comedic soft-shoe number reminiscent of "Mr. Cellophane" from Chicago at what feels like a very dramatic moment in the show. The best decision of the producers was to keep in "Unchained Melody" as well as the original underscoring from the film.

But you can't sleight the SRT for these things, so it's important to focus on how they elevated this show beyond what it says on paper.

You will certainly fall in love with Alexandra Mullaney, who steals the show as Oda Mae from the moment she steps onstage. She likewise gave a bravura performance in last month's Parade and February's Man of La Mancha, yet here she finally gets to flex her very capable comedy muscles. Her best moments are when she's interacting with Sam's spirit in a bantering, bickering manner, which she has probably had much practice with since she and Sean Mullaney are married. Likewise, she blows the roof off the place with her gospel-infused showstopper, "Are You a Believer" and the eleven o'clock number, "I'm Outta Here." That last song might be a good omen for her, because even though she has worked on Broadway before, I would not be the least bit surprised if they come calling for her after seeing her in this role. I was exhausted just watching her, yet her energy never wavered. She is an asset to the SRT, and they sure know it.

Then there is the tech-heavy element that was truly remarkable. I've been to a lot of theatre in my life, and the directing team of Ben Hart and Brandon James worked wonders to make the special effects really wow; Items float, the same person appears on two different parts of the stage simultaneously, and that bright, white glow you remember around the dead characters in the movie also encapsulates the actors on stage. (And just wait for the demons who show up in Act 2!) For no other reason, this would be enough to see this show if you're not a theatre person; you may not believe in the afterlife, but I'll be damned if you're not turned into a little kid again and transfixed (even if only momentarily) by the magic tricks Hart and James manage to amaze you with.

While I never saw the show on Broadway, I will confidently say that, like their production of Parade, this Ghost trumps the one you'd find on The Great White Way. Much like the message of this musical, this show will live on in my heart -- and I'm sure many, many others' -- long after it is gone.

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