In 1990, the movie “Ghost” ruled the box office, thanks to the star power of Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore and Whoopi Goldberg, an Oscar-winning script by Bruce Joel Ruben, and one of the most romantic moments in cinematic history, involving a pottery wheel and the song, “Unchained Melody.”
In 2011, “Ghost” was turned into a musical, taking most of the iconic lines and scenes directly from the hit film. Although it’s Broadway run was short, the show has lived on and is currently being staged at Toby’s Dinner Theatre in Columbia. Md.
Like the film, the story follows Sam and Molly, a young couple whose connection takes a shocking turn after Sam’s untimely death. Finding himself trapped between life and death, Sam refuses to leave Molly when he learns she is in grave danger and finds an ally—though a somewhat reluctant one—in storefront psychic Oda Mae Brown, and he works to avenge his death.
Directed by Mark Minnick, the delightful show stars Patrick Gover, MaryKate Brouillet and Ashley Johnson as Sam, Molly and Oda Mae, respectively.
Johnson, who takes on the comic role that earned Goldberg an Oscar win, has been working at Toby’s for 16 years, and is thrilled to be taking part in this show.
“I didn’t know much about the musical, but I knew of the movie, and it’s one of my parents’ favorite movies, and people who saw the film back then, they all say it’s one of their favorites,” she says. “When reading the script, I saw it was pretty much identical to the movie except for the songs. And this music is so beautiful, I just fell in love with it.”
The musical of “Ghost” includes all of the fan-favorite and iconic scenes from the film, including the subway ghost; the elevator scene between Sam and his best friend, Carl; the aforementioned pottery wheel; and of course, the use of the word “ditto” as Sam’s reply to Molly’s “I love you.”
Johnson, who was nominated for a Helen Hayes award for coincidentally playing another role made famous by Goldberg—Deloris Van Cartier in “Sister Act,” which Toby’s put on in 2016, enjoys playing the comedic relief in “Ghost.”
“It’s such a sad story of someone losing somebody they love so much, and we sometimes get caught up in the grief of loss and the unknown, but my character gets to break the tension,” she says. “There’s so many moments in the show when I can hear the audience sniffling or crying, and I may have a one-liner that makes people burst into laughter. That’s the most rewarding part about the role to me.”
As an actor, Johnson was also interested in the challenge of Oda Mae not being able to see Sam, and finding a connection without making eye contact, and make the relationship believable.
“Patrick and I have been able to connect on such a deep level without being able to physically touch, and that’s one of my favorite parts, and it’s fresh and new every performance,” she says.
While the songs of “Ghost” are mostly all new, “Unchained Melody” remains, with Sam singing it to Molly early on and the song makes a return near the end, with Molly and Sam performing a duet.
“My favorite song in the show is called ‘With You,’ sang by Molly after Sam has passed on,” Johnson says. “The emotion that MaryKate brings to the song—you can hear her joy in some moments, you can hear her pain and anger—she experiences all of the feelings in that song. It’s a show stopper.”
Of the songs she sings in the show, Johnson’s fave is “Believer,” because it introduces the audience to Oda Mae Brown in a fun way.
“Ghost” has a lot of heart and humor, and a powerful message about life and death.
“We’ve all experienced loss in some way, and this is a show where we don’t have to look at loss as something bad,” Johnson says. “This is a beautiful way to look at what’s next, and celebrate life and celebrate loss.”
And not only do audience members get a great show, but a ticket to Toby’s also includes a scrumptious buffet, dessert and ice cream bar, so it’s a night out that is unlike any other theatre experience in the D.C. region.
“Ghost” runs through Nov. 6.