Carla Stewart channels Oda Mae Brown in Ghost at Segerstrom Center

“Ghost, the Musical” is bringing mystical charm, mayhem and magic to the Segerstrom Center for the Arts July 29 to August 10. The movie is considered a ‘chick flick’ but the tender love tale, musically told, will have guys tearing up this time around. The otherworldly story with a paranormal twist stays true to the original, including theme tune “Unchained Melody” being integral to the plot. The stage version embraces its musical genre with joyous songs and lively dance routines.And yes, that romantic pottery scene is very much a part of the show. Katie Postonik, who plays Molly, was taught to throw pots by professional potters so that she can realistically re-enact the iconic pottery scene. Keeping it even more real two pounds of clay are used at every show as Molly actually creates a pot on stage.Admittedly, this is a supernaturally sad story and a little humor hits the right note. That’s where the fake psychic Oda Mae Brown, played by Carla Stewart, enters the picture. Stewart has some tough shoes to fill. Whoopi Goldberg won an Academy Award in the role of Oda Mae, but Stewart said she is up for it.“I saw the movie years ago and I didn’t want to become a carbon copy of Whoopi," Stewart said. "I wanted to bring more of my personality, my interpretation of Oda Mae to the role. I work from the angle of who I think she is so that audiences get a fresh look at her through my eyes. Sure, audiences will compare us. Whoopi is a legend, so I just focus on who I am as Oda Mae.”Stewart attended school at AMDA, studying music and drama, in New York. Following a stint on Disney Cruises, she answered an open call in the city, reading for the role of an Oda Mae sister in the musical production. The casting director liked her and offered her a lead as Oda Mae Brown. Having seen the Broadway show, Stewart was thrilled.“Oda Mae (Brown) is cool and getting the lead is a dream come true," Stewart said.Dave Stewart, who along with Glen Ballard, set “Ghost” to music, describes the importance of the Oda Mae Brown role in being an integral part of the story.“She is a fun character and you need some comic relief. I leapt on the idea of turning her into a kind of mixture of James Brown and Tina Turner, this fake psychic putting on a show,"Ballard said. "This gave us a chance to do upbeat soul music mixed with gospel and a bit of New Orleans voodoo.”Stewart agrees.“My favorite thing about playing Oda Mae is that she is funny and that allows me to use another part of my talent," Stewart said. "Comedy is challenging – it’s a stretch between thinking you’re funny and actually being funny. What I love about Oda Mae is she allows me to not take myself seriously. I just go on stage and become her. She’s such a free spirit.”There’s no denying that “Ghost” is centered on the supernatural. Book (and screenplay) author Bruce Joel Rubin has interesting take about the musical.[It] “gave me an opportunity to explore the spiritual dimension of the story, things that intrigued me that weren’t in the film. What I mean is a cosmological view of the universe that doesn’t begin with birth and end with death.”While Stewart believes that spirits may exist, she’s not sure that they actually return like Sam does in “Ghost.” She does think it’s possible that departed souls leave signs for loved ones and says, “that’s a beautiful thing.”“As for Oda Mae, the character, she’s a fake psychic, just putting on a show,” according to Stewart, “She’s been giving folks fake hope, until Sam arrives and suddenly, to her own amazement she’s the means of communication between the living and the dead. She actually scares herself when she realizes that Sam can hear her.”One of the most interesting dynamics of “Ghost” is the contrast of the comical, loud and animated Oda Mae playing opposite the heroic, ghostly Sam. All of Stewart’s scenes are with Sam.“It was interesting working with him because he’s a ghost – I can’t see him directly," Stewart said. "This is challenging – I can’t connect with Sam through my eyes. I have to connect with my emotions. We can’t play off each other. The hardest part for me is to not look at him.”As for a favorite scene, Stewart doesn’t have one, saying “the show in its entirety offers so much – romance, humor and Shakespearean influence (think the ghost of Hamlet’s father).” It’s music that adds a new element to this classic love story with songs that explore the characters’ inner lives, their hearts and souls. Stewart thinks her two big numbers, “I’m Outta Here” and the more gospel-styled “Are You a Believer,” go a long way to expressing the essence of her character.Modern technology and lightning make ghostly shenanigans believable and move the scenery around. The ghosting of Sam is created entirely with sound, video, stage technology, choreography and illusions making this a visually exciting production. Carla says, “Technical tricks make images, like the New York subway scene, come to life. The lighting is important as well – actors are on stage but you can definitely separate the people from the ghosts because of the fabulous lighting.”Stewart recommends “Ghost, the Musical” to Segerstrom Center patrons, saying “there is something to appeal to everyone – drama, comedy, upbeat melodies, dancing. It’s an emotional roller coaster ride that will leave audiences open to fantasy and hope. Fans will become believers in magical mysteries as they share Sam and Molly’s journey.”Tickets are available at the Box Office, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa, California 92626; Online at SCFTA.org; Phone 714-556-2787.

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