Friday, April 4, 2014

Theater reviews: Ghost the Musical and Fun with STEM

Posted By on Fri, Apr 4, 2014 at 10:23 AM

Ghost the Musical

When I saw it on Broadway, I was fairly charmed by Bruce Joel Rubin's adaptation of his Oscar-winning Ghost screenplay, and I was impressed with how well the production transported the film's special effects to the stage. But that was Ghost the Musical. What we're getting in the touring version at Blumenthal's Belk Theater ought to be called "Ghost the Video Game," because whatever is left after the rampaging special effects have despoiled the atmosphere of the romantic comedy thriller are very nearly trampled to death by the soulless protagonists. Charm? Fuhgettaboutit.


The projection overkill starts before the show begins, and it is so persistent that the earthbound scenes of Ghost - Molly Jensen's studio loft, Sam Wheat's banking office, and the restaurant where the lovers hang out - often feel like intrusions on the pervasive fantasy lightshow. Though she demonstrates a modicum of acting skills, Katie Postotnik as Molly the sculptor sings every one of her ballads with the same generic American Idol anguish. While Steven Grant Douglas as the murdered Sam isn't quite so punishing as a vocalist, he more than compensates with his monochromatic acting and tepid chemistry.

Part of the problem may be director Matthew Warchus, who also directed the quieter, more sensitive Broadway version. Here Sam seems to be perpetually shouting once he has become a ghost, or at least shouting so much that his quests to protect Molly and to help her reach closure lose their grip on our emotions. Ditto Brandon Curry as the subway ghost who reluctantly tutors Sam.

Bungling thug Willie Lopez isn't asked to shout any more than you'd expect, which is a prime reason Fernando Contreras shines here. Similarly, Robby Haltiwanger stands out as Sam's corrupt, drug-addicted friend Carl Bruner - because a man embezzling $10 million from his friend's bank to pay off a drug dealer really is soulless. While Haltiwanger fails to make Carl as much of a sexual predator as he was in the film and on Broadway, he adds an extra layer of zombie blandness when he dances. So the ensemble dances succeed more on tour in pinpointing New York City as the cradle of Carl's fiendish money-hunger.

Upstaging Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze, Whoopi Goldberg won the best supporting actress Oscar in 1991 for her portrayal of Oda Mae Brown, the psychic scammer that Sam uses to make contact with Molly. One of the worst byproducts of the musical score, by Dave Stewart and Glen Ballard, was to degrade the eccentric comedy of Oda Mae with an infusion of R&B. So you can't expect Carla R. Stewart to turn all this musical dross into gold, but she lights a temporary spark in her overlong hosanna, "I'm Outta Here," and she's a better comedienne than the Broadway original.

Fun with STEM

Learn with Laughter, I've read, has been around since 2005. So the company has had nearly a decade to get its act together before bringing Fun with STEM to Booth Playhouse. Yet the press performance last Saturday afternoon - 54 minutes for a show that the Blumenthal Performing Arts website touts as "Broadway bound" - was an unmitigated technical, creative, and educational disaster.

An acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, STEM delivered very little intellectual protein in any of those domains in a script written by Cory Riback, Vlado Kolenic, and Linda Ann Watt. At its best, the script reached the level of sophistication to be found in such Saturday morning cartoons as Rainbow Brite or The Smurfs.

Riback fractured the kiddies wearing his other hat - which he never could keep on - performing as Cory the Clown, and Cameron Pace also had a good rapport with the small fry as Fiona the Science Buff, sort of a Mary Poppins in a lab coat. But after about two miles, Cory stopped getting any useful mileage out of kicking his hat around the stage, and he was obliged to rely on the script he created, a criminal act comparable to assault.

A person involved with the production confided that the computer program was caput on Saturday, explaining the taciturn turn of Stan the Toucan and the absence of his brother robot Darrel the Barrel. The main plot thread, innocuous to begin with, couldn't be properly executed. Cory finds a mundane green stem and goes on a crusading mission to make it grow, enlisting the aid of Fiona and four youngsters, The Circus Gang, to reach this awesome goal.

Fiona supplies soil and compost, and The Circus Gang helps stack crates so that the planted stem will get some sunlight through the dense surrounding foliage. Apparently, plants need sunlight to grow! Equally astonishing, they need water, but the plant is so high that Cory can't climb high enough with his watering can. So he built a pulley system on the side of the crates with a rope, a couple of wheels, and a wee bicycle so small that the clown could make a shtick out of riding it.

But somehow, Cory "forgot" to attach the watering can to his pulley rigs. So the stem had to grow without water. That pretty much sums up the whole show. Broadway, beware!

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