Contributor Posts, Theater

The Good, The Bad, and The Oda Mae: “Ghost: The Musical”

Ghost: The Musical theatrical poster

Ghost is one of those movies I know quite well (I own a DVD copy and I’ve admittedly seen it more times than I can remember), which is why you can imagine my curiosity and my interest in seeing its incarnation as a stage musical. In the spirit of full disclosure, I was half-expecting it not to live up to the original magic that the movie brought to audiences, but I entered the theater last May 9 with an open mind nevertheless. It ended up being a slightly fresh take on an “oldie but goodie” favorite.

Ghost: The Musical follows the events of the movie faithfully, which was a delight for the movie’s fans (which comprised most of the audience, I could tell from the conversations during the intermission). There were some changes made for the sake of live theater; for instance, instead of lifting the coin up the door to prove to Molly that Sam is really there and Oda Mae is not a fraud, Sam tells Molly through Oda Mae to read a letter she wrote for him. Oda Mae then dictates the contents of the letter from outside Molly’s door, which she is able to do because Sam is dictating the contents to her. I’ll get to my favorite theatrical addition in a bit.

Let me divide this brief look at Ghost: The Musical into three parts: The Good, The Not-So-Good, and The Oda Mae Show.

The Good

A photo of the Ghost: The Musical stage

The first thing you really notice about the show is their set. The walls and doors are white and arranged like a trapezoid, with the audience at the wider base. The windows are made of LCD screens that change the backdrop according to the scene’s location, while the white walls serve as a projection screen for the backdrop changes. It reminded me of Screen Macbeth in a way, and the transitions from one location to another were brilliantly executed thanks to this arrangement and the digital backdrop design.

Cris Villonco’s voice was a pleasant surprise for me. I haven’t heard her sing in a long time (I didn’t get to watch any of her previous shows) so my only memory of her voice is from her “Crush ng Bayan” days. Her voice has matured very well, with well-rounded low registers and floating high notes that were both showcased well through the show’s music. Her Molly Jensen was brought to life brilliantly – her happiness and excitement in the beginning is contagious, her disappointment at Sam’s inability to say “I love you” is palpable, an her shift from a woman in love to a woman grieving is heartbreaking.

I also give my kudos to Hans Eckstein’s Carl Bruner, and not only because he took his shirt off and made the audience audibly gasp in awe. He was an effective Carl, so much that when we asked for his picture after the show, it took me awhile to remind myself he was only acting.

The music was one of those elements that took me by surprise. I was worried that the character’s dispositions might be lost in translation once they break out into song and dance numbers, but the pop score worked really well at conveying the mood of each character and each scene. The incorporation of the now-iconic tune “Unchained Melody” into the modern pop-theatrical music doesn’t feel out of place at all, and it served as the anthem for the show’s more tender moments between Sam and Molly as it had been the anthem for their characters’ vulnerable scenes in the film.

The Not-So-Good

Let me get through this part quickly, as my list is a short one.

The audio balance at the beginning was off. It was so off that Christian Bautista’s voice was too loud, while I could barely hear Cris’s voice in the beginning of the show. They adjusted this a few minutes after, although I would have appreciated it if the balance was right from the beginning. this made me feel the opening was weak, save Cris’s contagious, excited giggle which we heard well even without the mic.

Speaking of Christian, I love his voice in general, but for some reason I didn’t think it was a perfect fit for Sam Wheat. Throughout the show I was waiting for that frustration and aggression that Movie Sam had over having limited faculties as a ghost, especially when Molly’s life was in danger. Instead, Musical Sam seemed pleading all the time, and helpless, because Christian’s voice is so gentle. And so while he sang beautifully and acted well, some of the scenes felt lacking for me (for instance, when he was getting back at Carl in the bank while Oda Mae was withdrawing the laundered money downstairs as Rita Miller).

The Oda Mae Show

Ima Castro’s Oda Mae Brown stole the show, which is why she deserves her own section.

I was worried they’d get someone and use body paint to turn her black – that’s one of the worst things you can do to a character in any adaptation. I wanted an authentic experience – the essence of Oda Mae without necessarily mimicking the appearance. Ima Castro did not fail to deliver.

Even before she enters the stage, you just know she’s going to be a piece of work. Kudos to the writers, the director, and the ensemble for setting the mood effectively. Once she enters, you forget everything else onstage, and your eyes are drawn to this big ball of energy.

Ima’s comedic timing, exaggerated movements, and crazy outfits are all characteristic of Oda Mae Brown. Every line her Oda Mae delivers leaves the audiences laughing hard, cutting through the heavy dramatic scenes of Sam and Molly and giving us respite. That divalicious (there’s no other way to describe it) dream sequence of hers when she received the check for ten million dollars is as outrageous and colorful as her character is, and is arguably my favorite part of the show. It reminds me of something like Chicago meets Beyonce.

My Rating

I can’t give it a 10 because I was really bugged by the sound system. But I will give it an 8.75 out of 10 because it was enjoyable, and it was a nice, fresh trip down memory lane.

“Ghost: The Musical” ran from April 25 to May 11, 2014 at the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium, RCBC Plaza in Makati.

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