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Strong performances evoke Camelot's 'Ghost'

It can be intimidating bringing a beloved movie classic such as “Ghost” to the stage — those are big, sentimental shoes to fill.

The 1990 film starring Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore was a box-office hit that launched an iconic love scene and won a permanent place in the public’s heart.

On Friday, Camelot Theatre opened “Ghost the Musical” with confidence and gusto and made the show its own. Eoghan McDowell and Courtney Crawford took to the stage as Sam and Molly with all the excitement and energy of young lovers starting a life together in a funky Brooklyn loft. With the help of their close friend Carl, played by Joey Larimer, they yanked drop cloths from furniture, joked about their tacky red sofa and matching red fridge, and bickered about Sam’s cheesy “Barbarella” poster, an aesthetic affront to Molly’s exquisite work as a sculptor.

McDowell, Crawford and Larimer all possess strong singing voices, solid commitments to their roles, and a willingness to take risks. Their self-assurance in the opening scene sets the tone for the rest of the production and allows audience members to settle in comfortably, knowing that their fond film memories are in good hands.

When Sam is abruptly murdered on the street, he becomes trapped in an excruciating realm between life and death. Sam discovers Molly’s life is in danger, but he’s unable to communicate with the living. In desperation, he turns to a gaudy, store-front psychic. Oda Mae Brown is a spiritual fraud — until Sam’s unseen voice gets into her head and won’t go away until she agrees to help warn Molly.

Oda Mae is one of those show-stopping roles no audience can resist. Whoopi Goldberg won an Oscar for her performance in the film version. Like Goldberg, Jade A. Chavis is more than equipped to take on Oda Mae. Chavis owns the stage, working every line for maximum humor, employing body language as loud as Oda Mae’s outfits. Her brassy musical numbers are highlights of the show.

“Ghost” is a story of love and loss and the aching need to transcend death. Sound and video designer Brian O’Conner utilizes projected videos to evoke the ethereal world of spirits, as well as the jarring visual violence of New York streets and subways. O’Conner’s imagery is subtle and effective, complementing and never overpowering the scenes.

Director Olivia Harrison achieves a successful balance between high-intensity scenes and quiet interactions. There are high-decibel moments that feel risky in places, but they never lurch over the top. Harrison’s pacing and scene changes work well, particularly in the first act.

A key challenge in staging “Ghost” is recreating the iconic pottery wheel scene between Sam and Molly, set to the haunting “Unchained Melody.” In this production, too much time is spent on Molly setting up her pottery equipment, and not enough on developing the necessary sensual intimacy. The actors portraying Sam and Molly are capable of matching the film’s intensity, but they need more opportunity to create an emotional connection before it’s cut short by Carl’s intrusion.

Eoghan McDowell’s commitment to the physically demanding role of Sam is unflagging. His body is consistently leaning in, straining to break through the barrier between life and death. McDowell keeps up a level of tension and frustration throughout as he struggles to save his Molly.

Playing opposite McDowell, Courtney Crawford creates a vivid and relatable Molly. Crawford is particularly effective during quiet songs of mourning. Her nuanced voice and expressions offer us believable grief.

Joey Larimer as Carl has a wonderful voice, one of the best of the production. His innocent appearance belies a cold-blooded killer. Still, we hate to see him hauled off to hell — he’s such a great singer and effortless dancer.

The secondary roles are well developed, even when time on stage is brief. Rigo Jimenez shines as one of Oda Mae’s assistants, along with the talented Amanda McGee. Jimenez also gives a strong performance as a callous murderer. His gritty intensity is matched by a furious subway specter, convincingly played by Darwin Garrett.

George Herkert’s crusty yet charming Hospital Ghost belts out a crowd-pleasing number cheerfully informing Sam that he’s “tag-on-your-toe” dead. The ghost’s wife is played by the endearing Patricia Herkert, who also portrays a sweet nun who experiences a forgivable lapse into profane language.

Sara Jo Czarnecki makes the most of her moment as a duped customer of Oda Mae’s. Staid Mrs. Santiago may not have the moves, but she’s moved by the rhythm of Oda Mae’s rousing gospel-style musical number. The entire cast and company is moved by the soulful spirit of this ambitious, high-energy production.

“Ghost the Musical” runs through March 26 at Camelot Theatre, 101 Talent Ave., Talent. Tickets and information are available at www.camelottheatre.org or 541-535-5250.

— Reach freelance writer Katherine Hannon katehannon17@yahoo.com.