‘Ghost’ gets a pop-rock spin in spirited Riverside show


By GAIL CHOOCHAN THE FREE LANCE–STAR

“Ghost” may have been released in 1990, but this romantic heavyweight has been enjoying a long afterlife. The iconic film—starring Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore and (ahem, Oscar winner) Whoopi Goldberg—aims for the heart as it illustrated the powerful bond between Molly and Sam, cementing it as one of the most epic cinematic love stories.

As with many celebrated movies, it’s just a matter of time before a stage musical version comes along. Just look at what has made it to Broadway in recent years: “Mean Girls,” “Beetlejuice,” “Moulin Rouge.” Fan or “Almost Famous”? That’s making its debut this fall. And “The Karate Kid,” whose TV series is riding high on Netflix, is looking to hit Broadway.

Bookwriter Bruce Joel Rubin, who also won an Oscar for best original screenplay, teamed up with the Eurythmics’ Dave Stewart and hit maker Glen Ballard for music and lyrics to bring some major pop-rock energy to his romantic fantasy thriller. After the musical’s 2011 world premiere in England, a number of tours and productions all around the world followed. Australia, Germany, France, South Korea, Japan, the Philippines—the love for “Ghost” is strong.

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And now that love is being shown at the Riverside Center for the Performing Arts, where “Ghost” runs through early November. Patti D’Beck directs this heartwarming production, teeming with power ballads, snazzy technical elements and plenty of nostalgia.

The musical adaptation hugs very tightly to the original script, but there are a few twists and turns—along with the occasional dance break—to keep things interesting. If you’re wondering if the shadow creatures will be breaking into jazz hands, no they do not, but there is a cute little song-and-dance with a cane-toting elderly ghost at the hospital (played by a winsome Robert John Biedermann , fresh off this summer’s “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner”).

The musical numbers, some more memorable than others, mostly serve to heighten the emotions of this young couple whose hopes for a bright future together are dashed when Sam is killed during a supposedly random robbery.

While “Ghost” retains the couple’s love story at its center, the musical gives other characters a chance to show their motivations through song. Even Sam’s shady banker buddy Carl (a perfectly swarmy Joe Mayes) gets in on the musical action in the New York-flavored tune “More.”

With the added song-and-dance numbers and comedic bits, this “Ghost” is more of a show than just the tear-jerker romance you would expect. The production, with some elements based on the Matthew Warchus original, brings a lot of technical dazzle with swirling projections and cool special effects.

Wonderfully cast as the young lovers are Riverside newcomers Jarrad Biron Green as Sam and Ashlee Waldbauer as Molly.

Sam is solidly played by Green, a powerful singer who deftly conveys both the heart and humor of his character. And Waldbauer is sublime as the emotionally torn Molly, who’s struggling with Sam’s death and can’t move forward. The musical’s soundtrack greatly benefits from Waldbauer, who’s given ample opportunity to showcase her gorgeous voice. “Here Right Now,” the sweet opening number with Green, and the moving solo “With You” are both highlights.

As everyone’s favorite psychic Oda Mae Brown, Toneisha Harris (a runner-up on NBC’s “The Voice”) injects much energy into the production. From the spirited “Are You a Believer?” (accompanied by Nancy M. Crawley, Grace McNamee and Andrea Kahane) to the flashy dance number “I’m Outta Here,” Harris is an absolute scene-stealer. Oda Mae’s moments with Sam, as they work together to protect Molly and foil his killer’s plans, are a delight to watch.

While the musical lacks the film’s deep emotional core, this “Ghost” is an entertaining journey revisiting one of the most beloved love stories in film.

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