News Column

Dave Stewart provides the tunes for this 'Ghost' story

November 4, 2013

YellowBrix

Nov. 04--Dave Stewart has a bit of advice for theatergoers headed to "Ghost the Musical": Bring lots of tissues.

Based on the 1990 drama starring Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore and an infamous pottery wheel, the theatrical show, currently on its first U.S. national tour that plays the Fox Theatre Tuesday through Sunday, indeed has its weepy moments.

As Stewart reminds us, in the first 10 minutes, our soon-to-be-ghostly hero, Sam Wheat, is killed, his young girlfriend, Molly Jensen, is devastated and, "for the audience, you're immediately on the edge of your seat."

But amid the boo-hooing comes the comedic tsunami, Oda Mae Brown, a fake psychic who doesn't believe her own shtick but will happily take the money of the distraught trying to contact their loved ones in the spiritual world (Whoopi Goldberg had a memorable, Oscar-winning turn in the movie).

"I suggested she be a very flamboyant character on stage, like a Tina Turner or James Brown," Stewart said.

He should know about flashy characters.

Stewart is the male half of the Eurythmics, who, along with the equally visually engaging Annie Lennox spun a web of hits in the '80s and '90s, including "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)," "Here Comes the Rain Again" and "Would I Lie to You."

The musician-songwriter penned the music and lyrics to the stage version of "Ghost" along with Glen Ballard, the powerhouse producer and songwriter known for his work with Alanis Morissette and Michael Jackson.

The pair initially wrote about 50 songs for the show and whittled the list down to the 15 used in the production, which is simultaneously touring the United Kingdom and Italy. The musical premiered in Manchester, England, in 2011.

Of course, there is one tune forever linked to the movie, the Righteous Brothers' hit "Unchained Melody," and Stewart was well aware of its significance.

"It appears about three different ways in the show in a very clever, emotional way each time," he said. "Then we tie it together, deconstruct it and put it back together again. It doesn't distract from anything else in the show -- we tried to deftly weave it in and out. But it's as if someone gave you a blank page with a golden thread."

While music is, obviously, an integral part of the production (it isn't called "Ghost the Drama," after all), much attention has also been given to the special effects used to simulate Sam's torn existence between the spiritual world and the real one.

Even though the show didn't captivate New York critics when it opened on Broadway in the spring of 2012 (it closed that August), most still praised the visuals; it also earned three Tony nominations (design, lighting and best performance by an actress in a featured role in a musical) and nabbed a Drama Desk Award for outstanding set design.

Stewart is candid when discussing reviews of "Ghost the Musical," which The New York Times called "flavorless and lacking in dramatic vitality." But theater site Talkin' Broadway determined that the show contains "unusual quantities of craft, cunning, and heart" and USA Today noted that "Apparently, sentimentality and special effects are draws."

Some critics might have wrinkled their noses, but Stewart is convinced that audiences feel differently.

"When it played the West End, we got some great reviews, some medium and some bad ones. Unfortunately, in New York, it was basically The New York Times and that (review) overshadows others that might have said, 'This is fantastic,'" Stewart said. "But that's the way of the land. And we knew that the general public couldn't think that about the show because we sat in the audience and every time it was the same reaction -- there would be crying and cheering and standing ovations."

Stewart estimates he's been living in a "Ghost" world for about seven years since the show began development, and anticipates it having a lengthy road life.

"I think it's one of those evergreens," he said, adding that a second American leg is likely. "The weird thing about building a show out of a movie is that you imagine you're building some kind of structure with words holding it up, and at some point you have to take all of that out and see how it floats. Some of it works and sometimes you go, Jesus, time to put the scaffolding back up!"

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(c)2013 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Atlanta, Ga.)

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