Apropos to the haunting Halloween season upon us, CM Performing Arts Center wisely chose to present “Ghost, the Musical” in the Noel S. Ruiz Theatre, a captivating foray into the netherworld based on the Paramount Pictures film written by Bruce Joel Rubin, starring Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore.
Young lovers Sam Wheat (Bobby Peterson) and Molly Jensen (Laura Laureano), just starting out their lives together setting up house in a Brooklyn loft, are met with tragedy as Sam is gunned down during a robbery while a stunned Molly witnesses the end of the life she once knew. Best friend Carl Bruner (Briggs Houston) remains at her side to assist her every need throughout her inconsolable mourning period, never letting on that he was responsible for Sam’s death. Only when psychic Oda Mae Brown (Crystal Fauntleroy) enters her life does Molly’s grief lessen and the audience is taken along with her on a willing suspension of disbelief.
The plot is hinted at in the very first scenes when Carl says, “What I wouldn’t give for a place like this!” as he is leaving his friends’ homey loft. Sam, sharing with Molly, not realizing he is experiencing a premonition says, “Every time something good happens to me, I’m afraid.”
The romantic bond between Peterson’s Sam and Laureano’s Molly is so strong and ever-present, transcending life itself, that at many points audience members were brought to tears. The couple actually took pottery classes together to better portray their characters as authentically as possible.
Peterson’s portrayal of Sam was so sweet and sensitive. That combined with his ability to handle the demanding physical side of the role and his captivating vocal performance of “Unchained Melody” were truly magical. Being a physically challenging role, he developed an inherent sense of how to fall without hurting himself. Peterson said, “I fully committed myself to the moment using my entire body,” confident of where he would land.
Laureano’s whole demeanor was that of someone who could barely go on without the love of her life—every word, every movement an unrelenting heaviness, a chore. Her singing was beautiful as she dramatically interpreted elegant lingering notes in many numbers, magnifying her character’s vulnerability.
Houston, as Carl, played the perfect villain. Uncomfortable in his life filled with envy and bad choices, Houston’s every facial expression and his fidgety discomfort in his clothing illuminated the darkness within Carl’s soul. A very strong presence on stage with a wonderful voice to match, it’s no surprise that Houston was trained at CM since fourth grade.
Fauntleroy’s Oda Mae is a colorful burst of hilarious excitement and song as she realizes a real ghost is actually talking to her, haunting her. Her stage presence is undeniably exceptional as she belts out every song with charmed passion.
No production of this Broadway-quality caliber could undertake such a show without a great director (Patrick Grossman), coupled with the expertise of a team of special-effects technicians creating backdrops of cinematic genius depicting cityscapes, moving trains, the cosmos, heaven and hell—50 projections in all!
Stage manager Karen Tese supplied some of the background elements of creating this ethereal production. “There were 11 crew people running the various aspects of the show,” she said. Most of their shows only have five. “Six different fog, haze and dry ice machines. Four hundred and fifty sound cues… 10 times more than a normal show.”
They doubled the amount of speakers to maximize the effects of the sounds, with some originating onstage for realism. “There were close to 500 lighting cues, and we had a third spot just to track Sam with a special color light that helped make him stand out from the rest of the cast,” she added. Grossman’s creative and complicated set design coupled with the video projections gave the audience an overall feeling of being part of another dimension.
As always with CM productions, there is a live orchestra and musical director Matthew W. Surico did a stellar job. CM’s new sound system was put to the test with this show. Choreographer Ashley Nicastro outdid herself with such realistic fight scenes and dance numbers, impeccably executed, with one even using lighted umbrellas.
“The cast has done a phenomenal job of bringing the heart and emotion to this story since early on in rehearsals,” said Tese. “We all wanted to make sure the production lived up to the work they were doing onstage.”
It certainly did! The production ended with a standing ovation by a packed house! n