Review: Fall in love again with 'Ghost'

Posted at 04/26/14 3:08 AM

Christian Bautista and Cris Villonco star in "Ghost the Musical." creds

MANILA – “Ghost” wasn’t the biggest box office hit of 1990 for nothing.

As such, it was not that much of a surprise that the stage musical version of the Patrick Swayze-Demi Moore romantic thriller presented by Atlantis Productions earned a standing ovation from a number of theatergoers on its opening night Friday at the RCBC Plaza in Makati.

Despite surviving only four months on Broadway after receiving mostly negative reviews from US critics, one can’t deny the aching romance that was at the heart of the popular movie. How can anyone not get caught up with that longing to have a departed loved one return to us? How can you not be moved by that desire to finally tell people you love them?

For those who were too young when Swayze and Moore made pottery-making sexy, “Ghost” centers on live-in lovers Sam and Molly. Sam has a problem saying those three little words that women want to hear, so when he is killed by a mugger, Molly is crushed and can’t move on. When Sam discovers that he was actually murdered, he tries to warn Molly through a psychic, Oda Mae, who can hear ghosts like him.

“Ghost the Musical” was written by Bruce Joel Rubin, who actually won an Oscar for his screenplay, and when the book hews very closely to the movie, the stage version works rather well. But the theatrical bits do come across as hokey, like that ensemble number of hospital ghosts telling Sam via song to accept the fact that he’s dead or that embarrassingly cliched ode to Wall Street greed “More.”

But more than the book, the weakest link has to be the music, especially when you consider that Dave Stewart is one half of the ‘80s synth-pop duo Eurythmics and that Glen Ballard wrote “Man in the Mirror” for Michael Jackson and “Hand in My Pocket” for Alanis Morissette. There are some pretty ballads like the duet “Three Little Words,” which was touchingly reprised in the end, and Molly’s big dramatic solo “With You” but they can’t hold a candle to “Unchained Melody,” while the ensemble numbers are sadly unmemorable.

Director Bobby Garcia did wonders when he staged another Broadway flop, “Carrie,” last year but “Ghost” is far more problematic to be fully salvageable. He retained some notable aspects of the Broadway production, such as the Tony-nominated scenic and lighting design. “Ghost” for the most part plays against a stark white set with video projections of the New York cityscape, creating some strikingly modern MTV-inspired imagery.

A scene from "Ghost the Musical." Photo from the Facebook page of Atlantis Productions

The tricky lighting, meanwhile, which casts a blue hue on Christian Bautista as the ghost Sam, could use more precision, although the special effects, like Sam going through doors, were more impressive.

Garcia also coaxed winning performances from his main actors, led by the scene-stealing Ima Castro as Oda Mae, the role that won Whoopi Goldberg a best supporting actress Oscar. Castro doesn’t just scale the gospel heights with her two production numbers, she was also quite moving in the more dramatic parts.

Although he has played lead roles in several musicals already, Sam can still be considered a breakthrough role for pop singer Christian Bautista, who is practically onstage for the entire musical. Bautista doesn’t just rely on his celebrity charisma this time around, as he gives a more deeply emotional performance with a consistent presence of mind, holding his ground well against his more experienced co-stars. However, some of the notes in his songs seem too high for his pop range, although his mid-tones are pleasant and endearing.

But the real heart of “Ghost the Musical” is supplied by Cris Villonco, who gives a painfully realized performance of a grieving woman whose world crumbles with the sudden, violent death of her soulmate. While Castro has the more flamboyant role that easily impresses audiences, it is Villonco’s emotional vulnerability that touches our hearts.

Despite the many flaws of this movie-to-musical adaptation, many of them inherent in the material itself, at least they got that ending right. We are again reminded why “Ghost” was a movie phenomenon during its time. And that’s enough for some to sweetly sigh, probably tear up and declare this staging a success.