In his late 60s — an age when many people gab about golf, pensions and creaky body parts — screenwriter Bruce Joel Rubin wrote his first stage play.
The project was an adaptation of “Ghost,” whose Academy Award-winning screenplay Rubin also crafted. The 1990 Jerry Zucker film, which starred Demi Moore, Whoopi Goldberg and the late Patrick Swayze in the title role, became an unexpected hit, grossing more than a half-billion dollars worldwide.
In the “Ghost” story, partly inspired by “Hamlet,” a murdered banker returns as an apparition. With the help of a quack psychic, he saves his living girlfriend from danger.
Rubin’s charge was to keep fans of the film yet tell the story in a medium with vastly different requirements.
“I didn’t quite know what I was doing when I started, but I had an expert director who was able to lead me through it,” Rubin said from his home in Los Angeles. “You have to construct your scenes so they mostly set up the songs. And you have to have the songs help with plot and character development, where in film the scene does those things for you.”
A songwriter, too
“Ghost: The Musical,” which opens Wednesday at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis, premiered in Manchester, England, in 2011, before subsequent short runs on the West End and on Broadway. Productions of the show are planned for Europe and Asia.
Minnesota native Stephen Grant Douglas, who grew in the Red River Valley and graduated from the University of Minnesota-Duluth, plays the title role in the American national tour.
Screenwriter-cum-playwright Rubin not only did the adaptation of “Ghost,” but also wrote lyrics for more than 20 songs for the show, four of which are in the production. Funny, he had not planned to write any lyrics at all.
“Originally, we hired songwriters and composers, which is always a scary proposition, since you don’t know if the people you get are going to get it,” said Rubin, now 71. “One composer didn’t get it at all. I thought, ‘How am I going to explain all of this to them?’ I called my producer and said, ‘I think we have a problem.’ I sat down by myself and said, ‘I can do better.’ ”
By his own admission, he was not a great lyricist.
“I had written poetry at 8, so I had a knack for it,” he said. “But there are people who can do this better.”
Those people include the songwriting team of Dave Stewart, of the Eurythmics, and Glen Ballard, who produced songs for Michael Jackson and Alanis Morissette. The songwriters were brought in by the producers, who wanted a dedicated tunesmith and a certain pop style for the show. The creative team also includes British director Matthew Warchus, who won a Tony for his staging of Yasmina Reza’s “God of Carnage.”
The fact that the film and, to a lesser degree, the musical, have had wings globally is partly because its story of a guardian ghost that protects the living dovetails with many different belief systems, Rubin said.
The story line also provides hope, especially for those who leave the world with unfinished business.
“I don’t want to pick a particular religious practice, but it taps into this idea that life begins before you’re born and continues after you die,” Rubin said. “Somehow, death is not a blackout.”
Both the earnings from the film, which has provided him a comfortable life, and the narrative itself have helped Rubin find grace in the world. He hopes to move to the Bay Area soon so that he can be near his grandchildren.
“I’m a guy who came out of the ’60s, who had periods of mind-consciousness expansion via meditation,” he said. “I spent 50 years meditating. I lived in ashrams and monasteries. I’ve arrived at a place of old age where every [material] thing falls away. It’s hard to let go of something you haven’t had. But if you’ve had it, it’s easy to let it all go.”