Los Angeles Times

'Ghost' comes to life with music

Dave Stewart has a suggestion for theatergoers heading to "Ghost The Musical" — pack Kleenex.

"The audience is left weeping," Stewart, the former Eurythmics musician who helped write the show's music, said Tuesday. "Lots of men weeping, going through the emotions."

Based on the 1990 drama starring Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore, the theatrical show is set in modern-day New York City, beginning with the scene of couple Sam and Molly walking back to their apartment one night after a romantic dinner. The two are mugged, leaving Sam dead on the street.

Sam, now a ghost caught between this world and the next, is unable to leave Molly, who he learns is in grave danger. With the help of a phony psychic, Sam tries to communicate with Molly in the hopes of saving her life.

Stewart, who along with singer Annie Lennox wrote and performed '80s and '90s hits including "Sweet Dreams" and "Here Comes the Rain Again," has produced albums and co-written songs for Stevie Nicks, Tom Petty, Bono, Mick Jagger, Katy Perry and Jon Bon Jovi. He was approached by producers to meet with Bruce Joel Rubin, the Academy Award-winning screenwriter of "Ghost," to collaborate on writing the music.

"When we met, we bonded fantastically," Stewart said in an interview. "We were inspired and felt creative, and we were on a mission, because I've heard collaborating on musicals can be complex."

The five-year project led to the show's opening in London in 2011 and its appearance on Broadway the next year. On July 29, it will arrive at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts and run through Aug. 10.

Stewart, who had never scored a musical before, was interested because he was intrigued by the book.

"Musicals take a long time because there are so many different stages," Stewart said. "It just becomes a complex Rubik's Cube and you have to stay with it."

Rubin was another matter. When he was first approached about writing a musical based on his film, his answer was no.

"I couldn't see an upside to it," he said in a news release. "The film had a life, a reputation."

But after a meeting with producers years later, Rubin imagined embarking on a different angle.

"I thought that this might be an opportunity for me to explore the spiritual dimension of the story," he said. "When I use the word spiritual, what I mean is a cosmological view of the universe that doesn't begin with birth and end with death. And the producers were very open to that idea."

Rubin had to decide where the songs fit and what they should be. Because he had never written lyrics, he decided to take on the challenge and wound up with 20 potential songs.

Now the lyrics needed music.

Meetings were arranged with Stewart, who asked to bring along his friend Glen Ballard, a producer and songwriter who has worked with Alanis Morissette, Michael Jackson and Aerosmith. "We started talking, and the three of us had a remarkable synergy," Rubin said.

Said Ballard in the news release: "I think Bruce was both shocked and happily surprised that Dave and I dived into the deep end and started conjuring melodies out of his words. In no time, we probably had the DNA of two or three songs."

Only two of Rubin's songs remained in the show, but many of his phrases survived.

Stewart said he had the most fun working on psychic character Oda Mae Brown — a daunting task, since the collaborators realized they would have to compete with audience memories of Whoopi Goldberg's Academy Award-winning performance.

"Oda Mae is so important because she's a fun character, and you've got a sad story and you need some relief," Stewart said in the news release.

He thought of turning the fake medium into a mixture of James Brown and Tina Turner by incorporating gospel, soul and blues into three-part harmonies. "We were allowed to make routines with dance and over-the-top craziness," he said.

A favorite of Stewart's was the song written for the scene where Oda Mae has a $4-million cashier's check in her hands and is told by Sam to give it back. "She's got the shock of her life, and it's a hilarious scene," he said.

"I think the reason audiences connect to the show the way they do is because of its evergreen message," Stewart said. "People forget they're here, now. They're so busy and get so wrapped up in 'living' that they miss life itself.

"You have this feeling of being in the moment and not forgetting the people around you. And you're thinking about your feelings about the afterlife, but mainly that you take the love with you."

If You Go

What: "Ghost The Musical"

Where: Segerstrom Center for the Arts, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa

When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturdays, 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sundays, July 29 through Aug. 10

Cost: Tickets start at $25

Information: (714) 556-2787 or scfta.org

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