Review: Ghost the Musical

“What?! You’ve never seen Ghost?! With Patrick Swayze?!” the exasperated guy behind me admonished his friend. Well, if she is a child of the 90s, she has a valid excuse—the film was released in 1990. (And if you are from my generation, then yes, it’s been that long ago.)

This also gives the musical its own excuse: when Jao invited me to see the play, I didn’t think it was smart to mess with the original material, which has produced one of the most memorable movie moments of all time. However, two decades do give the play ground for educating the younger generation.

Other details got me excited: the music and lyrics were co-written by Glen Ballard, who wrote Jagged Little Pill with Alanis Morissette. (Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics is the musical’s other half, with book and lyrics by Bruce Joel Rubin, who wrote the film’s screenplay.) Notwithstanding what I initially found to be an odd pairing, I was also looking forward to seeing Cris Villonco and Christian Bautista play Molly Jensen and Sam Wheat.

Until I remembered Unchained Melody.

It’s like that year’s equivalent of Let It Go or the previous decade’s My Heart Will Go On. It played on and on in radio stations. You heard it everywhere. In fact, I think it went on for years so that even if I hear the first few keys of the song two decades later, I still get the strong urge to rip my hair off.

And there’s also the matter of the ghost. “So how will they make Christian look like one?” Jao asked. “Maybe, he’s not even here at all—we’ll only see his hologram,” I replied.

* * * *

Set in New York, I initially doubted how Christian, who plays a banker, will navigate the world of Wall Street and its brash city accent. Fifteen minutes into the show (and yep, he was there, flesh and blood), he already commits his first—and thankfully, only—blunder: “Don’t bubble the burst,” he tells Molly. It stupefied me for a few seconds as I internally debated whether this was a private joke in the tradition of Melanie Marquez. As a leading man, he has the face, physique, and charm to pull off the role, but I found him lacking in grit: even when he was angry, I wanted to pat him on the head.

It’s Cris who anchored the whole production together. Her Molly is pained and vulnerable—whenever she stared off into the distance, you know she’s recalling Sam’s death on loop in her head, holding on to memories as if they’d still materialize the next day. The highlight of her performance would be her pensive rendition of With You, one of the few songs that I found to be a signature Glen Ballard: Though my heart is broken / It keeps breaking every day / You took my hopes with you / Took my dreams with you. 

I find ‘anchored’ the perfect word because the musical was being pulled from different directions: from the cheesy (I blame my bias against Unchained Melody), to the downright corny: It was painful to watch Jamie Wilson play an angry mentor ghost, relegated to doing nothing but grunt and growl in… well, anger, complete with crashing sounds and lightning effect. Surely, Jamie, an astute actor, could have been generous in consigning the role to an up-and-comer instead.

There’s also the psychic Oda Mae Brown, the movie role which gave Whoopi Goldberg her Oscar. The vivacious Ima Castro played her to sass perfection—and she could have really run away with it especially with the show-stopping number, I’m Outta Here—but she and Cris eventually give the musical its sobriety: by the end of the play, a few patrons around me were sniffling (e.g., Jao).

Technically, the musical, directed by Bobby Garcia, is superior. In the first few minutes, I already wanted to congratulate the lighting director and set designer for the smart use of projector and small space, and for that cute elevator scene. However, the material could have been darker—here, the ghosts seem like caricatures, the types who would drink milkshake with Casper. Best friend Carl, who is played with both charm and grit by Hans Eckstein, and murderer Wille Lopez, played by Altair Alonso, could have been more sinister—sexually sinister, that is. The audience should have been frightened, if not by ghosts, then at least by its living villains.

 

Ghost The Musical runs until May 11, 2014 at the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium, RCBC Plaza, Makati. Visit www.atlantisproductionsinc.com for details.

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