It is a memorable love scene that has been copied and and even parodied for decades. But does the romantic moment at the potter’s wheel, made famous by Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze in a blockbuster film, stand a ghost of a chance as part of a musical?
Michael Tahaney thinks so. Tahaney, who heads ECU’s musical theater bachelor of fine arts program, is the director for “Ghost the Musical,” which opens today at McGinnis Theatre.
Set in New York City, this rare, contemporary ghost story features an equally modern pop-rock musical score.
Like the film, the musical tells the story of Sam Wheat and Molly Jensen, a longtime couple whose love story takes a tragic turn when Sam is shot to death during an attempted mugging. After his death, Sam’s ghost seeks help from a psychic to communicate with Molly and to protect her from his killer.
“I’ve always loved the film,” Tahaney said. “Molly and Sam have this sort of somewhere in time kind of love. They’re truly soul mates.
“It’s a powerful story of a strong love ... somebody that you’ve had a deep emotional relationship with,” he said. “There’s that (idea of) what if we could just get one more moment with somebody that we love?”
The musical, with music and lyrics by Dave Stewart and Glen Ballard, was written by Bruce Joel Rubin, the Oscar-winning screenwriter for “Ghost.” After its premiere in London in 2011, “Ghost the Musical” had a brief run on Broadway in 2012.
Even fans of the film are largely unaware that a musical version exists, which is fine by Tahaney, who prefers to direct lesser-known productions.
But the movie version, the highest grossing film of 1990, has become part of popular culture, so much so that “Ghost” was re-released in some theaters on Valentine’s Day to celebrate the film’s 30th anniversary.
“I think most people who are late 40s, 50s, you say ‘Ghost’ (and) we all know it’s Patrick Swayze, Whoopi Goldberg and Demi Moore,” Tahaney said. “We have these sort of iconic image memories.”
Students in the musical’s 16-member cast have few memories of the film version, which was released in theaters a decade before many of them were born. Although he is no older than his castmates, Keagan Kermode, who plays Sam, is an exception to that.
The ECU sophomore, who is pursuing a degree in musical theater and professional acting, recalls watching the movie often during his childhood in Roswell, N.M. Kermode’s parents once re-created the movie’s pottery scene for a commercial they filmed. (The family still has a copy of the spot on a VHS tape.)
“It was kind of a running joke in my family, just that scene in general,” he said.
But for Kermode, the film was no punchline. Swayze, who died from cancer in 2009, became his childhood idol.
“I’ve been dancing since I was about 8,” he said. “Being an 8-year-old (boy) who is a ballet dancer, you kind of get made fun of a little bit. It was really cool to see a male figure who did what you do and was somebody to look up to.”
Kermode got his start in musical theater after his family’s move to Goldsboro, where he began acting at Center Stage Theater during his junior year of high school.
Last fall, he portrayed Rapunzel’s prince (opposite “Ghost the Musical” co-star Karley Kornegay) in “Into the Woods” at ECU.
Nazmokeem Harvey, who played Milky White in “Into the Woods,” stars as Oda Mae Brown in “Ghost the Musical.”
The sophomore actor met with Tahaney prior to auditions to ask if he could try out for the role. Tahaney’s original response was no. He did not intend to cast a male actor in a leading female role.
“I thought the show was already going to feel very different for the audience,” he said. “But then I thought, ‘Hang on a second. ...Why does Oda Mae have to be that one from 1990?’”
Oda Mae, a character for which Goldberg won an Oscar, is more con artist than psychic and cannot believe it when a man who is dead begins communicating with her.
Harvey welcomed the chance to play the larger-than-life, street-wise Oda Mae.
“Whoopi is an iconic character in that movie,” he said. “There are certain things that just have to stay the same. But you also have to have the freedom to realize the character for yourself.”
Tahaney has a similar goal for “Ghost the Musical” — to pay tribute to the beloved film while creating a stage version that is memorable in its own right.
“That became a real challenge for me when I started directing,” he said. “I think the idea was to create a respect and homage to the characters. But once we acknowledge it, then we find our own way to express it completely. We just have to do that.”
ECU’s Loessin Playhouse will present “Ghost: The Musical” at 7:30 p.m. today through Saturday in McGinnis Theatre. Additional matinee performances will begin at 2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday. Tickets are $17.50 for public, $10 for ECU student/youth. Contact 328-6829 or email@example.com for more information.