Touch is important in "Ghost: The Musical." After Sam (Derek Carley) is gunned down by a mugger (Ceasar F. Barajas) in a Brooklyn alley midway through the show's first act, it's touch that the deceased banker misses most. Sam can still see and hear his grieving girlfriend, Molly (Sarah Ellis). But his state of spectral purgatory denies him her caress — until Sam, playing paranormal P.I. on his own murder, realizes that rediscovering his touch is the only way to for him and Molly to find peace. In this most basic of senses, then, the story of "Ghost" is about touch.
But as a way of telling that story, it's also touch that lifts "Ghost" to another plane altogether on the stage of the Merry-Go-Round Playhouse. With direction by Stephen Brotebeck, choreography by Robin Levine and fight choreography by Barajas, the musical adaptation of the smash 1990 romantic thriller may be the most must-see show of the Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival's 2017 season. Between Carley and Ellis's sensuous embraces and every visceral exchange of blows that results after they're ripped from each other, "Ghost" is irresistibly intimate.
In roles made iconic by Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore, Carley and Ellis are more than their smoochy chemistry, too. Their affable presence and soul-baring performances on songs like "With You" and "Teach Me How" compel the audience to mourn that chemistry right along with them. But even a lead pair as perfectly cast as Carley and Ellis are no match for the show-stealing Allyson Kaye Daniel, who as psychic Oda Mae Brown realizes every hilarious, empathic nuance of the character that netted Whoopi Goldberg an Academy Award for the role.
AUBURN — Allyson Kaye has long known how she's going to say one particular line in the Finge…
As Carl, the friend and coworker who arranges Sam's mugging to support some embezzlement scheme, Ben Maters capably plays a curiously written role. Until the revelation of his hand in Sam's death, Carl shows all but no trace of the greed or sociopathy that'd motivate such a deed. But once Sam realizes someone hired Barajas's mugger, there's no mystery: It was Carl. Even if you haven't seen "Ghost" the movie, the dearth of significant characters in the musical all but screams as much. So the revelation is neither a surprise nor a slow burn, but one of the show's flatter moments.
The other misstep in "Ghost: The Musical" involves how Sam learns to touch again. After chasing down a fellow shade (Adrian Baidoo) who previously bounced Sam around a subway car, he gets taken to supernatural school during "Focus." But the song, despite Baidoo's best efforts, is an embarrassingly bad bit of slam poetry with the kind of rhymes one would expect if "Ghost: The Musical" was some sitcom punchline. A few other songs risk becoming forgettable, but Jeff Theiss directs the orchestra through the volatile score with enough rhythmic vigor to seize everyone's attention.
"Ghost" being a tightly plotted movie with the kind of haunting special effects still imprinted on this '90s kid's brain, the musical posed a challenge to the festival's production team. As always, though, the team came through: The backdrop street-level perspective of Manhattan skyscrapers evokes vertigo, while the sight of hellions shambling through the dark to claim evil souls is about as intense as it was in the movie. And as Sam ascends to heaven amid swirls and beams of light, his afterlife's purpose fulfilled, one can't help feeling touched by "Ghost: The Musical," too.
Gallery: The Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival presents 'Ghost: The Musical'
The Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival continues its 2017 season with "Ghost: The Musical" at the Merry-Go-Round Playhouse. Here are a few scenes from the show, which continues through Sept. 16 at the playhouse, Emerson Park, Owasco. Tickets are $28 to $58. For more information, visit fingerlakesmtf.com or call (315) 255-1785.
If you go
WHAT: "Ghost: The Musical"
WHEN: Continues through Sept. 16
WHERE: Merry-Go-Round Playhouse, Emerson Park, East Lake Road, Owasco
COST: Tickets $28-$58
INFO: Visit fingerlakesmtf.com or call (315) 255-1785