Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Ghost the Musical
Brelby Theatre Company
Review by Gil Benbrook | Season Schedule

Also see Gil's reviews of All in the Timing, King Charles III, Lost in Yonkers, and Rasheeda Speaking


David Samson and Taylor Moskowitz Gratil
Photo by Shelby Maticic
The recent Broadway show Ghost the Musical didn't last very long. I saw the show early in its five month run and, while it is not the worst musical I've ever seen, it is far from the best. Brelby Theatre Company is presenting the Arizona premiere of the show and director Shelby Maticic and a decent cast do their best to make the most of the material. But with a lackluster score and a bare bones production it doesn't make much of an impression.

The plot of the musical is pretty much exactly the same as it was in the Oscar winning movie. Ghost tells the tale of Sam and Molly, two twentysomethings in love who have just moved into a new home in Brooklyn. Sam is a powerful financial analyst and when he is killed toward the beginning of the show, he finds himself trapped between this world and the next. When he discovers who his killer was he stumbles upon a phony psychic, Oda Mae Brown, who can hear him, and together they try to save Molly from being murdered as well.

I have several problems with Ghost the Musical, the first being that most of the musical numbers are all very similar. They also add very little to the show and at sometimes seem to just go on forever. There is also a large number of ballad-heavy songs, which unfortunately instills a repetitive somber tone, bringing a sense of boredom to many parts. And there are many numbers that are not very good or simply lackluster. There are really only two memorable songs in the show, though one is the classic pop song "Unchained Melody," which got a second life when it was used in the film. Dave Stewart and Glen Ballard wrote the score and, considering that Stewart had many hit songs with The Eurythmics, it's a shame the score isn't better. Bruce Joel Rubin's book (from his own screenplay) doesn't add anything new to the film plot.

Shelby Maticic does a good job trying to make the most of the show. The small Brelby space works well for the more intimate elements of the story and Maticic does good work with her cast to help the personal nature of the story shine through. But a small budget can't do much for the required ghostly special effects, which were about the only saving grace for this show on Broadway, or the many locations in the plot. While a few of the effects, including Sam and another person rising from their dead bodies, are nicely achieved through simple means, one somewhat elaborate effect in which Sam tries to pick up a Coke can couldn't be seen from where I was sitting.

Brian Maticic's set design is good and works well in the small space, though a ceiling beam blocks the second story loft set piece from full view of those in the back rows on one side. Also, having the board operator directly above the audience, in almost full view, is a bit distracting. Tim McCandless' lighting is very good. Jessie Tully's costumes and Allison Bauer's hair and make-up design work well for the story. Bauer's somewhat wild face paint designs for the ghosts are an interesting decision and at least make it clear who the ghosts are. However, it is a bit strange that Sam doesn't have the same make-up.

David Samson is Sam and Taylor Moskowitz Gratil is Molly. They both are fine singers and realistically appear to be in love. Samson does well in showing the confusion Sam feels once he realizes he is dead, as well as the urgency he exhibits to save Molly once he knows she is in danger. As Molly, Taylor Moskowitz Gratil has the unfortunate task of portraying one emotion—grief—for about 90% of the show, which makes her portrayal come across somewhat one dimensional. I've seen both Samson and Gratil in other shows in the Valley and know they are both fine actors and singers. It's just unfortunate they don't have better material here to show what they are capable of.

There are a couple of mediocre songs given to the psychic Oda May Brown that stop the show and not in a good way, though Anne-Lise Koyabe who plays Brown is the best thing in the show. Rubin's adaptation gives Brown the best lines and, just like Whoopi Goldberg, who won an Oscar for playing the part in the film version, Koyabe delivers them in spades.

The character of Sam and Molly's friend Carl offers the widest acting range, and Phillip Amerine plays the role well. Melody Chrispen and Mia Passarella are good in their portrayals of two very different ghosts that Sam encounters. The ensemble is fine, with Shandi Mortenson a stand out in two small parts.

There have been many musicals adapted from hit movies some of which were good and some of which were not. For one based on such a hugely successful movie and with a book by the original film's screenwriter and a musical score by Dave Stewart of Eurythmics fame it's just too bad that the end result of Ghost the Musical isn't as good as it could be.

This is the first show in Brelby's new space and the larger venue appears to give them more creative freedom. I look forward to seeing what they produce next in their new location.

The Brelby Theatre Company production of Ghost the Musical runs through October 15th, 2016, with performances at 7154 N 58th Drive in Glendale. Tickets are available at www.brelby.com or by phone at (623) 282-2781

Book & Lyrics by Bruce Joel Rubin
Music & Lyrics by Dave Stewart & Glen Ballard
Director: Shelby Maticic
Scenic Design: Brian Maticic
Lighting Designer: Tim McCandless
Costume Designer: Jessie Tully
Hair & Makeup Designer: Allison Bauer
Sound Design: Clayton Caufman
Props Design: Chelsea Jauregui

Cast:
Sam: David Samson
Molly: Taylor Moskowitz Gratil
Carl: Phillip Amerine
Oda Mae Brown: Anne-Lise Koyabe
Louise: Leeann Tegl
Clara: Ayanna Siders
Willie: Fernando Perez
Hospital Ghost: Melody Chrispen
Subway Ghost: Mia Passarella
Mrs. Santiago: Shandi Mortenson
Ensemble: Allison Bauer, Monica Hernandez Boll, Melody Chrispen, Micah Jondel DeShazer, Gabriel Escudero, Brenna Jackson, Angela Kriese, Mia Passarella, Fernando Perez, Shandi Mortenson, Mary Plante, Aubrea Robards, Mat Vansen


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