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Hale Centre Theatre brings 'Ghost the Musical' to life

Anna Daines Rennaker is Molly Jensen and Derek Smith is Sam Wheat in the Hale Centre Theatre production of "Ghost the Musical."
Anna Daines Rennaker is Molly Jensen and Derek Smith is Sam Wheat in the Hale Centre Theatre production of "Ghost the Musical."
Doug Carter, Hale Centre Theatre

"GHOST THE MUSICAL," through April 11, Hale Centre Theatre, 3333 Decker Lake Drive, West Valley City (www.hct.org or 801-984-9000); running time: 2 hours with one intermission

WEST VALLEY CITY — Oda Mae Brown is the show-stealer in "Ghost the Musical" at Hale Centre Theatre.

Mackenzie Seiler plays Brown, a phony psychic with a rap sheet, in the Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday cast — and she's hilarious. Seiler has heart and energy and doesn't hold back when it comes to saying what she's thinking.

Brown makes money by conning the bereaved. Yet she can hear the deceased Sam Wheat as he tries to convince her to save his girlfriend's life. She's not making that part up.

Brown doesn't really want to be involved and doesn't appreciate the ghosts who ultimately line up at her door for help. But she's a sport and ends up shouting messages at Molly Jensen (played on Tuesdays/Thursdays/Saturdays by Anna Daines Rennaker).

Seiler plays the character with just the right amount of over-the-top brashness and honest vulnerability. She doesn't quite believe in her ability, yet she's intrigued.

Wheat, played by Derek Smith (Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday cast), is earnest and desperate to understand what's happened to him and how he can stop the trouble headed toward his girlfriend — the one he could never say "I love you" to. Wheat and Jensen had just moved into a New York apartment when he's shot and killed.

From the moment he steps away from his body, the play takes on an other-worldly premise. Wheat lives between this world and a place that's not quite heaven. Jensen mourns.

Wheat's business colleague, Carl Bruner (played by Marshall R. Madsen in this cast), moves to comfort Jensen — but his motives are not pure.

There are sad songs and lines that speak of loss and love. Rennaker does her best with the music, but it's a difficult task. It's hard to hear the words clearly. The tunes sort of blend together and wander. Only the iconic "Unchained Melody" — sung as Jensen works the potter's wheel with Wheat holding her close — really sticks.

The music, played by the three-piece orchestra that comes back and forth from above the stage, is, by contrast, absolutely exquisite. The strings sing.

Between Brown and the violin, cello and keyboard, the show is worth seeing.

Here is a stage play that suffers a bit from the same problems as the original movie. It shifts from moody and sad to somewhat breezy and comic.

The transitions are quick. It's hard to know just what to feel and think.

It's easier to enjoy if there's no realistic expectation of the whole plotline making serious sense.

Along the way there are some nice, colorful set pieces; outstanding costuming (particularly with Brown's character); and amusing lines: "Oda Mae, do you have a nice dress to wear?" Wheat says as she walks off wearing what she already thinks is a nice costume.

As usual at the West Valley theatre, the ever-clever rotating, disappearing and interchangeable stage pieces put on a show of their own, especially in the fog.

"Ghost the Musical" is a pleasant watch once it gets going. (The first act is somewhat stilted with a lot of kissing and moving from couch to chair and back.)

Content advisory:The main characters kiss often but do not become physically passionate. There is a shooting and some fighting, and three people die as the story progresses.

Sharon Haddock is a professional writer with more than 35 years' experience, 17 at the Deseret News. Her personal blog is at sharonhaddock.blogspot.com. Email: haddoc@deseretnews.com