If you have not yet ventured up to the North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre, what are you waiting for? You are truly missing out on some amazing theater. Friday’s opening-night performance of Ghost: The Musical was my third visit to NRACT, and each visit is more impressive than the last. I will admit I was a little apprehensive when I first heard they would be performing Ghost: The Musical. I mean, after all, how could a small-stage production compare to the iconic 1990 movie, starring Whoopi Goldberg, Patrick Swayze, and Demi Moore?
Written by Bruce Joel Rubin, with music by Dave Stewart and Glen Ballard, Ghost: The Musical is based on the Paramount Pictures film Ghost. The musical, which premiered in London’s West End in 2011, was produced by Colin Ingram, David Garfinkle, and Adam Silberman.
For the most part, Ghost: The Musical at NRACT follows the same basic premise of the movie. The musical centers around Sam Wheat (John Millsaps), a successful banker, and his fiancé, potter Molly Jensen (Lauren Bamford). Just when their life together seems to be perfect, a tragedy happens, and Sam is murdered. After seeing Molly drowning in her grief, Sam is unable to fully cross over. He enlists the help of the flamboyant Oda Mae Brown (Tina Morris-Anderson), a presumably fraudulent psychic who is surprised by her actual psychic abilities. Both Sam and Oda Mae navigate this unlikely partnership together to uncover the truth behind his murder and to save Molly from her grief.
Raleigh, NC director Chasta Hamilton does a wonderful job of navigating through the musical’s dark subject matter, while capitalizing on some of the more lighthearted moments. I applaud her for not trying to follow the movie. She makes some creative very stylistic choices, specifically regarding the ending.
The famous pottery scene is still included in the show; however, it has a very different feel than in the movie. I liked that it focuses more on the spiritual connection between Sam and Molly and had less of a sexual undertone than the movie. This made the moment more genuine and relatable.
Much of the emotional energy of this production comes from Lauren Bamford as Molly. She performed with such painful raw emotion, especially during her solo of “With You,” a song about grieving her loss.
John Millsaps tackles the challenge of portraying Sam. Not only does he have to play two characters (living and dead), but he has to break away from everyone expecting him to be Patrick Swayze. I think he did a great job of playing towards his comedic strengths when he could and making the character his own.
This was specifically apparent during his initial rendition of “Unchained Melody,” written by Hy Zaret and Alex North and originally made popular by The Righteous Brothers. If you are expecting the deep richness of The Righteous Brothers, you will be sorely disappointed.
Musical director Diane Cashwell Petteway does a good job of allowing John Millsaps to make the song his own. He not only plays his own guitar for this song, but adds some elements of humor as a way to woo over Molly after a brief argument.
The overall music for the show teeters between dark and uplifting. The song that the subway ghost sings — or raps, actually — was oddly written and didn’t fit. But the song of the hospital ghost (Jarrett Bennett) was soulful and show stopping.
It’s no surprise that the other showstoppers revolve around the quirky psychic, Oda Mae Brown, played by Tina Morris-Anderson. Morris-Anderson is also burdened with trying to remove herself from the iconic Whoopie Goldberg character. Morris-Anderson accomplishes this by again putting her own spin on the character. Although she has the flamboyance of Goldberg, she also has more of a motherly quality as well. This makes the character more relatable and less cartoonish.
Rounding out the cast are Jonathan Rand as Carl Brunner, Tyanna West, Destiny McCeill, Heather Shinpaugh, Samuel Walker, April Christian, Isiah McGuire, Kimmy Fiorentino, Summer Gayle Stanley, Sean O. Allen, and Elizabeth Anderson.
Lighting designer Jeremy Diamond creates a nice balance of ethereal undertones with pops of unexpected sinister color. Scenic designer Jen Leiner creates a multilayered playground for the cast to play with.
On opening night, the microphone and sound issues were still being tweaked throughout the performance. The microphones were very hot, and the sound was painfully loud at times. This will no doubt be corrected by the next performance.
If you haven’t gotten your tickets, you better hurry up. This show is sure to sell out fast!
SECOND OPINION: May 6th Raleigh, NC Spectrum Central NC News preview by Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan: http://www.twcnews.com/nc/triangle-sandhills/in-depth-interview/2017/05/25/in-depth–ghost-the-musical.html; and May 24th Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Byron Woods: https://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/ghost-the-musical/Event?oid=5893503
The North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre presents GHOST: THE MUSICAL at 8 p.m. May 27, 3 p.m. May 28, 8 p.m. June 2 and 3, 3 p.m. June 4, 8 p.m. June 9 and 10, and 3 p.m. June 11 at 7713-51 Lead Mine Rd., Raleigh, North Carolina 27615, in the Food Lion Shopping Center.
TICKETS: $20 Friday and Saturday and $17 Sunday.
Ghost (1990 film): http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0099653/ (Internet Movie Database), http://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/title/76186/Ghost/ (TCM Movie Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ghost_(1990_film) (Wikipedia).
Ghost the Musical (2011 West End and 2012 Broadway musical): http://www.ghostthemusical.com/ (official website), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-show/ghost-the-musical-490919 (Internet Broadway Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ghost_the_Musical (Wikipedia.
Glen Ballard (music and lyrics): http://www.glenballard.com/ (official website), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/glen-ballard-490928 (Internet Broadway Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glen_Ballard (Wikipedia).
Dave Stewart (music and lyrics): http://davestewart.com/ (official website), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/dave-stewart-490927 (Internet Broadway Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_A._Stewart (Wikipedia).
Bruce Joel Rubin (book and lyrics): ), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/bruce-joel-rubin-490926 (Internet Broadway Database) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bruce_Joel_Rubin (Wikipedia).
Chasta Hamilton (Raleigh, NC director): https://www.facebook.com/chastahamiltoncalhoun (Facebook page).
Shannon Plummer-White is no stranger to the stage! She studied Musical Theater & Opera at the American Musical Dramatic Academy in New York City, and has appeared in films such as Iron Man 3 and Safe Haven. She has also performed with the North Carolina Master Chorale and the North Carolina Symphony. When she isn’t on stage or making magic behind the scenes, she can be found in the art studio playing with fire and molten glass. She is an animal advocate with a special love of cats. She has four rescued fur children and a very supportive husband. Click here to read her reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.