'Ghost the Musical'

Katie Postotnik as Molly and Steven Grant Douglas as Sam in "Ghost the Musical," running April 8-13 at the Hippodrome. (Joan Marcus/Handout, The Baltimore Sun / September 12, 2013)

Bruce Joel Rubin, who won an Academy Award for his screenplay for the 1990 hit movie "Ghost," did not feel a compelling need to revisit the work.

Not long after the film's release — it went on to earn half a billion dollars worldwide — Paramount Pictures asked Rubin to write a sequel to the story of a young man named Sam who, after being murdered during a mugging, hangs around in ectoplasmic form to keep his beloved Molly from danger.

Rubin resisted the studio's overtures.

"I really didn't know where to take it," he says. "Paramount hired other people to do a sequel, which I found somewhat disturbing, but they couldn't crack it, either."

A few years ago, when some theater producers from England approached him with a proposal to turn "Ghost" into a stage musical, Rubin resisted again.

"I couldn't see it," the writer says, apparently without a pun intended. "But they were incredibly persuasive."

So persuasive that Rubin agreed to adapt his screenplay into a book for the musical. He also ended up contributing song lyrics.

"Ghost The Musical" opened in London's West End in 2011 and on Broadway the following year. It will appear at the Hippodrome Theatre this week, the latest stop for a production that has been touring the U.S. since last fall.

Rubin, 71, was drawn into the stage adaptation by the prospect of getting to retell the story in ways that differed from the movie.

"The original intent for 'Ghost,' in my mind," Rubin says, "was a gray tone palette that would be used to explore the netherworld. [Director] Jerry Zucker had a Technicolor vision for the film. I started to see how a stage version could let me explore a ghostly realm in ways that had not been addressed in the film."

Cinematic technology provides relatively easy ways to present a story involving apparitions and to get viewers to buy into it. Live theater presents a bigger challenge all around. To help with that challenge on "Ghost," the musical's producers brought in English illusionist Paul Kieve, whose credits include several stage productions and one of the "Harry Potter" films.

Kieve's illusions for "Ghost" helped to earn a Drama Desk Award for set design when the musical played Broadway.

"There is a lot of trickery and illusion in our show," says Steven Grant Douglas, the actor who portrays Sam on the tour. "Visually and audibly, there are so many special effects that help convey that I'm in a different realm. I can pass through people and objects. There's a blue tint to my clothes that becomes whitish and clear with the effects."

Douglas does not see the stagecraft as overwhelming this "Ghost."

"What I love is that all the special effects have a meaning and are not there just to show off," he says.

That meaning has to do with age-old feelings and imaginings about death and what happens afterward, especially when death comes suddenly and leaves a loved one behind.

"It's a universal idea, the instinct to have one more moment with someone," Rubin says. "It's about closure in the mythic sense of someone fighting from the other side."

Such themes have been explored by many a literary and screen work, but something about the way the movie "Ghost" addressed them seems to have exerted an unusually strong emotional pull.

It helped that there were engaging performances by Patrick Swayze as Sam and Demi Moore as Molly, not to mention Whoopi Goldberg, who won an Oscar as the fake psychic who discovers she has some powers after all.

Repackaging all of that into a theatrical vehicle, let alone one that calls on the performers to sing, was a risky business.