Saturday, April 26, 2014

Review of Atlantis' GHOST THE MUSICAL: Loving it Ditto

April 27, 2014

"Ghost", starring Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore and Whoopi Goldberg, is one of the biggest hit movies of the year 1990. Many people have seen it, many times over for a lot of them. The story of Sam's ghost trying all means to reconnect with his beloved Molly is well-known and well-loved.   It was also nominated for the Oscar for Best Picture that year. Ms. Goldberg won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress as the wacky psychic Oda Mae Brown. For its 15th Anniversary, Atlantis Productions brings us the first staging of musical version of "Ghost", the first time this show is performed in the Asia Pacific region.

Sam is played by pop balladeer Christian Bautista. He did not really impress in his previous stage outings. He was a dull Tony in 'West Side Story."  He did much better in the vocal aspect in "Rama Hari."  Here, Bautista fulfills the physical requirement of the role, and is practically on stage the whole time.  He does well enough in the acting department, though he may be too exaggerated at times. The songs, which have a rock edge, do not fit his pop singing style completely. Thus, despite being the central title character, his female co-stars still outshine him.

Molly is played by the luminous Ms. Cris Villonco.  This versatile young actress can really do no wrong.  She can fit into any of her diverse stage roles like a glove, be it in English or in Filipino, straight play or drama, period or modern.  This role is no different.  Despite being practically morose and serious the whole play, she can still light up the stage with her presence.  She can make those generic-sounding sappy theatrical ballads sound so special. She is not the titular ghost, but she is ethereal one.  

Oda Mae Brown is played by the powerhouse Ima Castro.  This must be the very first time I saw Ms. Castro completely right for a role.  When she was Aida or Sarafina (in "Nine"), her voice was beautiful, but her physical look did not make her convincing as the character. But as Oda Mae, she was on point the whole time -- the comedy parts, the drama parts, the singing and dancing parts -- perfect.  She has a electric number in Act 2 where she channels the artist whose poster she has on the wall of her Seance room. Ms. Castro was the one who elicited the loudest and most spontaneous applause from the audience the whole night.  

Hans Eckstein moves up a notch in his career in a much bigger role in this show (after smaller roles in "Piaf" and "August Osage County") and we finally get to hear him sing.  He has good stage presence and his portrayal of Carl is effective.  His singing is also good, though sometimes the ensemble can overpower his voice.  (Actually the ensemble tended to be too loud in a lot of song numbers.  Only Ima Castro can out-sing them.)

The book of this musical stage version of the movie was also written by the same scriptwriter as the film, Bruce Joel Rubin.  It is a very faithful adaptation, and therefore, the basic love story still works in its musical version.  The final scene can still draw those tears out of you.  Another favorite scene of mine is the first meeting of Molly and Oda Mae, where Molly is convinced by the word "Ditto". Beautifully executed scene.

The music by Dave Stewart (with Glen Ballard) though is not too distinct or memorable or remotely Eurythmic.  Certainly, "Unchained Melody" remains to be the main theme, and is heard several times.  Of the original songs, I was only enchanted by Molly's plaintive ballad "With You", especially the way it was interpreted by Ms. Villonco with all the fragility of her depressed character.  

Of course since the source film had a supernatural theme, the stage play is limited by its inability to do those memorable cinematic special effects.  The scenes when the souls of bad people were taken or that scene when Oda Mae becomes Sam while dancing with Molly looked awkward on stage.  The iconic coin-floating scene from the movie is not here. However, director Bobby Garcia did well enough given the limits of budget and technology. The scene where Sam "penetrates" through a closed door looks good, but it happens so deep upstage that it cannot be seen well from the balcony. The special effects of moving objects is reminiscent of the telekinesis scenes in Atlantis' recent "Carrie the Musical".  The lighting effects help immensely with the total effect of the stage ghost magic in both loud and quiet scenes.

The sets felt spare for the big stage.  Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.  Sam and Molly's Brooklyn apartment, with its three identifying set pieces, the red couch, the guitar table and the red refrigerator, would have to be the best set.  Too bad the pottery wheel was not realistic enough to make that other iconic love scene work perfectly, though Ms. Villonco's delicate acting and the Righteous Bros. on the "radio" saves it.  The scene where Sam and Carl were shown going up a New York skyscraper was cool.  But there are some really empty and dull sets, like the emergency room, the bank offices or the subway.

Congratulations to Director Bobby Garcia and the whole Atlantis cast and crew!  "Ghost" runs at the RCBC Theater on weekends up to May 11, 2014.  Catch it and relive the magic of this beloved film.


  1. We love the movie so much that we saw it three times. I can't imagine how it would turn out for the musical.

  2. I think in a such musical, the lights effects are very important. I'm quite interesting to see it too. Do you know if I can watch it somewhere online?

    1. Here is the link of a video that talked about the special effects in the Broadway version of Ghost: The local version here runs only for three weeks, so they had to make do with a tighter budget, which they did quite well considering their limitations.

    2. thanks for the link. I'll check it right now :D

  3. I see the commercial of this musical. I'm wondering if the whole movie is shown in the play. I forgot the story of this movie, maybe I need to refresh my memory by watching again before watching the play.

  4. Ghost was really an iconic movie and it's nice to see it evolve to a musical. They should have gotten better pottery tools as that was one highlight of the movie.

  5. It's been awhile since I last saw a musical - this seems really a nice one.

  6. I enjoyed this movie and Im curious how the musical will turn out

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