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Thursday, September 12, 2013

Chance of a “Ghost”

WHEN CARLA STEWART saw the musical “Ghost” on Broadway, “I was super-excited! I wanted to be in that show.”

She’s an actress from Chicago who moved to New York four years ago, studied at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy, and quickly established herself as a powerhouse performer, with shows like “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” “Rent,” “Grease,” “Hairspray,” and “The Wiz,” in which she played Dorothy, to her credit.

"Talkin' 'bout a Miracle" Photo by B. A. Nilsson
Last year she appeared in the jukebox musical “What We Do for Love (and Other Desperate Measures),” singing a number of classic songs, but when it came time to audition for “Ghost,” she chose the uptempo (and uplifting) “Fabulous, Baby!” from the musical version of “Sister Act.” Having toured the country as part of the Illinois State Baptist Association Choir before she got to New York, she knows her way around this kind of song.

There’s a common thread between the shows: the original films of “Ghost” and “Sister Act” featured Whoopi Goldberg, and it’s Goldberg’s role, as the possibly fraudulent psychic Oda Mae Brown, that Stewart is playing in “Ghost” the musical.

“I saw the movie,” says Stewart, “and Whoopi Goldberg is so terrific and so distinctive that I knew I had to something different.” Watching Stewart in rehearsal, it’s obvious that she’s found the approach. As the cast assembles around the table at which the colorfully garbed Stewart sits, the piano kicks in (it’s your typical rehearsal-room upright with a few dodgy keys) and a marvelous sound breaks forth from the cast, with Oda Mae navigating the tricky transitions between dialogue and song. “Talkin’ ’bout a Miracle” is the second-act number that shows her at work, even as it brings out more of her assertive personality. It’s quite a contrast to the more reserved Stewart at the interview table.

Carla R. Stewart
The musical was written by Bruce Joel Rubin, who won an Academy Award for his screenplay for the 1991 film. “People were after me for ten years to turn this into a musical,” he says, “but I kept saying no. Eventually, Colin Ingram and David Garfinkle came to my house – I was living in Rhinebeck at the time – and spent so long trying to talk me into it that they missed the last train home. By morning, they’d convinced me.”

What followed was a search for the songwriters, culminating in the choice of Grammy Award-winning team of Dave Stewart and Glenn Ballard. “They’re good friends who collaborate easily,” says Rubin. “When I’d say that I was looking for something like ‘Some Enchanted Evening,’ they’d come up with it.” 

The musical premiered in England at the Manchester Opera House early in 2011, and transferred to the West End later that year. It made its Broadway debut in April 2012. Even as it continues traveling the UK, it begins its North American tour at Proctors in Schenectady this weekend.

The run begins at 2 PM Sat., Sept. 14, with performances at 8 PM Sept. 14, 19, and 20; 7:30 PM Sept. 17 and 18, 2 PM Sept. 15, and 1:30 PM Sept. 19. Visit the Proctors website for tickets and more information.

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