Mercury finds the love story in 'Ghost' amid dizzying visual effects

Overdoing technical effects and visuals can bury the simple message at the heart of a show such as “Ghost.”

The musical adaptation of the 1990 film is opening Mercury Theatre Company’s 2015 season with a mostly solid production of a so-so musical that stays true to the powerfully moving movie without being a replica.

With a stage version of “Ghost,” based on the movie of the same name starring Demi Moore, Whoopi Goldberg and the late Patrick Swayze, one desires some effects that communicate a world turned topsy turvy, devoid of equilibrium.

Merucy's technical team has effectively implemented those effects. At the same time, director Pierre-Jacques Brault has ensured the love story, one involving a devotion so strong that not even death can quash it, isn't lost amid the visuals. It's a difficult balance to achieve, but credit Brault and Co. for succeeding.

As anyone who’s seen the film knows, banker Sam Wheat (Swayze in the film) is murdered for money by a thug, leaving his ghost caught somewhere in between this life and the next. His state of existence isn’t the only one upended.

Sam is the love of artist Molly Jensen’s life and it, too, is basically over after he’s killed for money by a thug, Willlie Lopez (a not so intimidating Justin Woody) with conspirator Carl Bruner (a deceptively charming, and later desperate Brian Marshall).

Molly’s not only lost Sam, but must decide whether Sam’s ghost is really trying to re-connect with her and warn her of danger to her life.

For all its séances, suspense and attempts at humor, some of it lame, “Ghost” carries a simple message: The power of love can, in some mysterious way, transcends even death.

Mercury Theatre Company effectively employs dizzying lighting effects — and one tour-de-force performance by Kelvette Beacham, a big African-American woman with a voice to match, while giving the romantic story at the show’s heart the attention it deserves. To balance out the effects, the set design is simple. Still pictures of the action projected onto a screen reinforce the notion of remembering. But projections of the Big Apple add little to the production.

Robert Head, who plays Sam, brings the right mix of tenderness, tenacity and sincerity to the role. These traits effectively convey the strength of Sam’s love for Molly as this spirit tries desperately to get psychic Oda Mae Brown (Beacham) to warn his beloved.

Korrine Courtwright shines as Molly (Moore’s role in the film). She offers a multi-faceted performance that can be touchingly tender and understated, as well as forceful yet natural when Molly pours out her soul in grief and confusion.

Head and Courtwright share a lovely, convincing chemistry.

Cast members, especially Courtwright, are blessed with powerful singing voices with great range. But the lyrics are hard to understand at times.

A volcano erupts whenever Beacham’s fast talking, loud-mouthed Oda Mae lumbers across the stage. Beacham, clad in a multi-colored outfit and at times a weird looking headpiece, brings to mind one of those voodoo-practicing ladies you might find in New Orleans. The costume nicely matches the psychic’s personality, and the rest of the uncredited costumes appropriately match moods — white for the ensemble of ghosts, black for the mourning Molly.

The ensemble’s role is not always clear in director Pierre-Jacques Brault’s upbeat but, when necessary, tender and heartfelt production.

In the mostly unmemorable pop score, there are some tender, character defining lyrics, such as when Sam, who never has told Molly the exact words “I love you,” expresses how he communicates that to her.

Such softer songs work far better than the unnecessary, prolonging big number “I’m Outta Here,” when Oda Mae sings about what she thinks she’ll do with a large sum of money to which she’s not entitled. It’s overkill; the psychic has plenty of turns in the spotlight.

There’s also an unoriginal song about the cutthroat world of New York that doesn’t define character, deepen emotion, advance the plot or tell us anything we don’t already know. The lyrics are unnecessarily and annoyingly repetitive and the melody’s not memorable.

What’s memorable, among other things, is the message at the show’s heart: a devotion that’s so strong, death need not be proud; some ties not only bind but are stronger than the end of life itself.

IF YOU GO:

WHAT: “Ghost The Musical”
WHEN: Through June 27. Performances are 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday as well as 7:30 p.m. June 25-27.
WHERE: Notre Dame College’s Regina Hall, 4545 College Road, South Euclid.
HOW MUCH: $18 for adults, $16 for students with valid ID and $15 for seniors 60 and older. Call 216-771-5862 or visitwww.mercurytheatrecompany.org.

Aaron Krause is a Reflector staff writer. Reach him at akrause@norwalkreflector.com