Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Arizona Broadway Theatre
Review by Gil Benbrook

Also see Gil's reviews of Justice and And Then There Were None

Tommi Lea and Andrew Natale Ruggieri
Photo by Nader Abushhab
On the range from hugely successful to dismal failure, in judging the effectiveness of the many musicals based on hit movies, the recent stage adaptation of the hit Oscar-winning film Ghost lands somewhere in the middle; it's nowhere near as perfect as The Producers or Hairspray but not as dreadful as Big or High Fidelity. While the musical's Broadway run didn't last long, the popular film has an intriguing plot which makes for an interesting stage story, even though the musical score is just OK. Arizona Broadway Theatre's production features a great cast and inventive creative elements that work well for both the emotional and the surreal aspects of the story.

The plot of the musical is pretty much exactly the same as the movie, telling the tale of Sam and Molly, two twenty-somethings in love who have just moved into a new apartment in Brooklyn. Sam is a powerful financial analyst. When he is killed toward the beginning of the show, he finds himself trapped between this world and the next. After discovering who his killer is, he also stumbles upon a store-front psychic, Oda Mae Brown, who, while a phony, can actually hear him, and together Sam and Oda Mae try to save Molly from being murdered as well.

Bruce Joel Rubin's book (which he adapted from his own screenplay) doesn't add anything new to the film plot but has all of the movie's memorable emotional, mystical, and comical scenes. The dialogue is natural and the comic moments are very funny. However, the songs don't really add that much to the story, and many in the ballad-heavy score sound very similar, with most also not helping to move the story along. Dave Stewart (from The Eurythmics) and Glen Ballard wrote the score and, considering that Stewart composed many hit pop songs, it's unfortunate that the score isn't better.

Director Nate Bertone does a very good job in ensuring his cast hit all of the emotional and comic notes in the script. There are several moving moments that work very well to bring out the emotion in the plot due to the excellent portrayals by the cast, including an emotionally raw yet tender portrayal of Molly from Tommi Lea and an appropriately confused and concerned Andrew Natale Ruggieri as Sam. While Molly is depressed and grief stricken for the majority of the show, Lea does a beautiful job instilling the character with shades and layers of emotion to create a three-dimensional character. Likewise, Ruggieri projects warmth and a heightened sense of urgency as Sam once he discovers who his killer is and that Molly is in danger. They both have rich and winning singing voices that soar on their many songs and also are believable as a young couple in love, which is why the ending of the musical in this production is hugely impactful.

Dwan Hayes is superb as the psychic Oda May Brown. She has great comic timing and delivers some of the show's best lines with flair. The role won Whoopi Goldberg an Oscar and, like Goldberg, Hayes creates a hilarious and crowd-pleasing character. While Hayes is also a gifted singer, it's unfortunate the two songs she's given to sing aren't that good. Gino Giovanni Bloomberg does a good job portraying the intricate character of Sam and Molly's friend Carl. Darren Scott Friedman and LaRon Hudson are good as two of the ghosts Sam encounters, but again their songs aren't that great. The small, hardworking ensemble does good work throughout.

Bertone also designed the set which uses neon lights and various set elements that are quickly whisked on and off stage in a cinematic fashion. While the majority of the special effects are fairly simple, they still create nice ghostly effects, and Jose Luis Santiago's lighting is exceptional and quite effective in continually casting a bluish, ghostly tone over Sam, no matter where he is on stage. Carter Conaway's costumes work well to delineate the ghosts from the rest of the characters as well as the loud fashion choices of Oda Mae, and Jesse Worley's sound design delivers crisp vocals and also some great sound effects.

I saw Ghost on Broadway, where it had a large cast and a set that was constantly moving and rotating, and thought it was overproduced, loud, and basically unmemorable. In ABT's scaled down and smaller cast production, the show actually works quite well and even brought me to tears at times due to the effective cast and clear direction.

Ghost runs through May 29, 2022, at Arizona Broadway Theatre, 7701 West Paradise Lane, Peoria AZ. For tickets and information, please visit or call 623-776-8400.

Direction: Nate Bertone
Choreography/ Music Direction: Kurtis Overby
Scenic Design: Nate Bertone
Lighting Design: Jose Luis Santiago
Sound Design: Jesse Worley
Costume and Wig Design: Carter Conaway
Wig Coordination: Chris Zizzo
Props Coordination: Christian Fleming
Production Stage Manager: Leigh Treat
Production Coordinator: Jamie Hohendorf-Parnell
Associate Artistic Director: Kurtis Overby
Executive Producer: Kiel Klaphake
Casting & Artistic Producer: Cassandra Klaphake

Sam Wheat: Andrew Natale Ruggieri
Molly Jensen: Tommi Lea
Carl Bruner: Gino Giovanni Bloomberg
Willie Lopez: Miguel Angel Almanzar
Hospital Ghost: Darren Scott Friedman
Oda Mae Brown: Dwan Hayes
Clara: Kayla Arias
Louise: Carrie McKnight
Mrs. Santiago: Jamie Goodson
Subway Ghost: LaRon Hudson