Jeans were high-waisted and Rollerblades were hot back in 1990 when “Ghost” was the top-grossing movie of the year. Twenty-some years later, original screenwriter Bruce Joel Rubin made the iffy bet that the world was ready for a musical version, which ran on Broadway for a scant four months. Old Log Theatre gives that gamble another roll of the dice with its revival of “Ghost the Musical.”
Rubin’s book updates “Ghost” a bit by throwing in cellphones, Brooklyn hip and a tiny dose of urban grit, but this supernatural tale’s story line remains intact. Sweet young lovers Sam (Frank Moran) and Molly (Mollie Fischer) are busily remodeling a Brooklyn apartment with the help of Sam’s co-worker Carl (Mathias Becker) when Sam is suddenly shot one evening during a holdup. As Molly holds Sam’s very dead body in the street, Sam’s spirit remains on the scene, trapped in a ghostly netherworld. Once Sam the ghost discovers that his murder was engineered by Carl as part of a larger financial fraud, he sets out to foil the plot with the help of storefront medium Oda Mae (Heather McElrath in the role for which Whoopi Goldberg won an Oscar).
“Ghost the Musical” retains the lovely Righteous Brothers’ version of “Unchained Melody” from the movie while folding in additional numbers by Dave Stewart and Glen Ballard. Given their strong pop/rock credentials (Stewart is best known for his work with Eurythmics; Ballard has written for Michael Jackson and Alanis Morissette), their work here is surprisingly unmemorable. While McElrath does a killer job of selling “Are You a Believer” and “I’m Outta Here,” with sizzling backup from China Brickey and Caitlynn Daniels, the show’s ballads tend toward a solid shade of bland.
On the plus side, director Eric Morris’ staccato pacing, clever scenic elements and an appealing cast offset the anemic music. Erik Paulson’s modular set pieces whirl around the stage, while Miko Simmons’ 3-D projections fluidly evoke streetscapes, offices and even a credible rainstorm. Moran infuses the role of Sam with energy and an offbeat sense of humor, while he and Fischer create a convincing chemistry as the separated lovers. Becker is appropriately nefarious as Carl, while Brickey, Daniels and Emily Jansen in particular add some strong ensemble work.
The real standout in this show, however, is McElrath as the duplicitous and often exasperated Oda Mae. Her sharp comic timing, commanding stage presence and ability to communicate volumes with a glance lend a welcome vibrancy to this production. It’s a performance that makes “Ghost the Musical” well worth the long trip out to spend a summer evening at Old Log.
Lisa Brock is a Twin Cities critic.