Audiences of “Ghost the Musical” will head to the theater with big expectations.
They’ll be eagerly awaiting that swoon-worthy pottery scene, the first crooning notes of “Unchained Melody.” They’ll remember Patrick Swayze as an impossibly dreamy dead man and the sassy Whoopi Goldberg who brought him — in some ways — back to life in the movie that inspired the musical.
They’ll settle for nothing less than the best.
And at Beef & Boards, they won’t have to.
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Now through Nov. 18, the north Indianapolis dinner theater takes on the hauntingly romantic love story that hit the silver screen in 1990 — and does so effortlessly.
It’s a tall order, competing with the likes of an ethereal Swayze and big-screen special effects — however dated they might appear now — that make you believe the in-limbo Sam has found a way to cross dimensions with the help of a morally loose psychic who enjoys swindling her desperate clients much more than communing with the dead.
But this cast makes the story its own, with sound and light design that deserves its own bow at the curtain. Perhaps two.
Sam (Eddie Egan) dies early in the first act, falling victim to a scuffle with a thug who shoots him, and it’s here we get the first glimpse of a show that is expertly choreographed even between dance numbers.
The gun fires, and Sam darts across stage after his assailant. The audience’s eyes follow him until a cry from wife Molly (Andrea Laxton) brings us back to where she is crying over a body (Where did that come from? Well done, stage hands!) presumably belonging to Sam, who — standing beside Molly now with a light blue spotlight on him — realizes he is dead.
That light blue hue follows Sam through the rest of the show, maintaining an otherworldly glow that does just enough to remind audiences our protagonist is a spirit without being too distracting. Flashes of light and expert sound cues also aid in the suspension of disbelief as Sam tries to influence a world he can no longer touch.
And just wait until the afterlife comes calling for a less-wholesome ghost: a trap door has never been so ominous.
The audience eagerly awaits the first appearance of Oda Mae Brown, the psychic who discovers the gift she’s used to steal others’ money might be the one thing that redeem her, and Renee Jackson doesn’t disappoint.
Jackson brings her own unique flavor to the part that drives the plot. Her reaction to discovering she truly can intercept messages from the dead — an act she began advertising long before her gift actually developed — is delightful. Various supporting cast ghosts throughout the show (Joshua L.K. Patterson as Orlando and again as the Subway Ghost) also were fun to watch.
Without the benefit of being able to physically interact with others on stage (Swayze could take a swing at someone and pass right through them with a little movie magic), Egan struggles somewhat to portray Sam’s frustration convincingly.
We need to see him utterly melt down at discovering a friend’s betrayal, watch a visceral reaction when he senses his wife is in danger. These instead are somewhat muted moments.
He could afford to let some of that polish slip in the show’s many tender moments. A more vulnerable Sam would take an amazing show up one more level.
But Egan doesn’t lack for emotion in his vocals; he and Laxton have distinct sounds that still compliment one another well.
“Suspend my disbelief,” in which Molly starts to believe her dead husband might still be able to hear her, is one of the highlights of the show.
“Ghost” at Beef & Boards will leave you torn between wanting to run right home and watch the movie — or book another ticket.
For ticket prices and showtimes, see beefandboards.com or call the box office at 317-872-9664.