Chicago native Carla R. Stewart has an ambition to appear onstage in three recent Broadway musicals that have been adapted from films that starred Whoopi Goldberg.
Stewart has yet to audition for future regional productions of "The Color Purple" or "Sister Act," but she already has one show down for her career goal since she's starring in the national tour of "Ghost The Musical." The 2012 Broadway musical makes its Chicago debut at the Oriental Theatre Tuesday, Jan. 7.
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"Ghost The Musical"Location: Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph St., Chicago, (800) 775-2000, broadwayinchicago.com
Showtimes: Tuesday, Jan. 7, through Sunday, Jan. 19: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday (also Sunday, Jan. 12); 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday (also Wednesday, Jan. 15)
"I saw ('Ghost The Musical') while it was on Broadway, and I remember sitting there thinking, 'I want to be in this. It's so amazing,'" Stewart said during a recent telephone interview. "I went home that night and I made a Facebook posting telling everyone to go see it ... and now I'm in it."
Stewart stars as the sham medium Oda Mae Brown, the role that won Goldberg an Academy Award for best supporting actress. Oda Mae is pivotal, since her suddenly activated ability to communicate with spirits becomes invaluable to the ghost of the recently deceased Sam Wheat, who is trying to watch out for his grieving girlfriend. Those roles were filled by Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore in the movie; in the musical, they're played by Steven Grant Douglas and Katie Postotnik.
Stewart said many of the film's iconic moments are in the show, like the romantic pottery wheel scene and Sam's amazement at being able to walk through a door. The producers of "Ghost The Musical" have even gone so far as to obtain the rights to use the 1955 pop hit "Unchained Melody," which featured so prominently in the film.
But Stewart said audiences are sure to find many more favorite moments in the musical thanks to the new pop score by Glen Ballard and David Stewart (of the band The Eurythmics) and the script by Bruce Joel Rubin (adapted from his Academy Award-winning "Ghost" screenplay).
Stewart said die-hard fans of the film should be pleased with the new stage elements. In particular, she said the special effects, created by illusionist Paul Kieve, are "eye-popping."
"It's very cinematic with all of the digital projections and LED screens," Stewart said. "But you really have to be paying close attention to see how we do all of these illusions."
"Ghost The Musical" is Stewart's first national tour -- "the first one of many I hope," she adds. The tour launched in September, and it's been a learning curve for Stewart to try to maintain her vocal health amid all of the constant shifts in climates and ever-present air-conditioning. Drinking lots of tea and avoiding ice water has proved invaluable, she says.
Appearing in the musical and returning to her hometown has prompted Stewart to reflect on how far she's come. Growing up, she just loved singing before she became exposed to doing musical theater.
She appeared in local productions, notably Congo Square Theatre's "Black Nativity" at the Goodman Theatre, but Stewart realized that she had to get more acting training. So she left Chicago for New York in 2009 to attend the American Musical and Dramatic Academy, and she's been lucky to find work regionally since then.
"I'm just looking forward to seeing friends and family who supported me since childhood," Stewart said about her hometown return to Chicago. "Since I've been away for so long, they get to see what I've been doing. They get to see how their support of my career has just been amazing. I'm really just glad to share that with all my friends and family back home."