Joo Won, top, and Ivy star in the Korean version of the musical "Ghost." / Courtesy of Seensee Company
Meet Bruce Joel Rubin, the creative mind behind ‘Ghost'
Bruce Joel Rubin
By Kwon Mee-yoo
While romantic tearjerkers tend to age badly, one notable exception is ''Ghost,'' the 1990 film that remains safely on the list of Koreans' all-time favorite movies. The steamy love scene between the late Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore in which they shape a pot together has been recycled endlessly in television dramas. The background music for that scene ― the Righteous Brothers' "Unchained Melody'' ― is one of the most overused songs in television commercials.
So it's understandable that the creators of "Ghost the Musical" have high hopes for commercial success in Korea after experiencing mixed results in other markets. The musical opened at the D-Cube Arts Center in Seoul on Sunday and will be staged through the June next year.
In an interview with The Korea Times, Bruce Joel Rubin, who scripted the movie and musical, expressed confidence about a successful run in Korea, the first country in Asia where the musical is being shown. After the first show, he was impressed by the overall execution and the performance of the actors.
"The show started and I immediately knew that it had found what it had been looking for in Korea,'' said the 70-year-old American.
"It's a full-blown production and physically the best.''
The musical version of Ghost premiered in Manchester, Britain, in 2011, before it reached West End and Broadway. Ticket sales in the two representative musical markets were underwhelming. The show is now being staged in the United States, Italy and Hungary aside from Korea.
Rubin said the key for converting the movie into musical theater was "compression.''
"I had to find the way into a scene and the way out. You can't use all of the dialogue and I had to find a new way of expressing what a person is feeling and thinking,'' he said.
He also had to rework some scenes, including the famous one involving clay. The scene appears early in the movie, before Swayze's character, Sam, is murdered and becomes a phantom. In the musical, it's Sam's ghost that hugs Molly from behind as she works on the pottery wheel.
"We knew we had to have it in the show because everyone expects it. Putting it in the later part of the show has a new resonance,'' Rubin explained.
In the movie, Molly becomes convinced of the existence of Sam's ghost after she sees it levitating a penny. Of course, you need an object significantly larger than a penny to create the same effect in the theater. Rubin settled with folding a letter in mid-air, one of the key special effects of the musical.
"That scene worked out very well. The psychic, Oda Mae, saying the words Molly is reading in the letter (she wrote after Sam died) is an indication that Sam is really there talking to Oda Mae. So all by itself, it is valuable,'' Rubin said.
Rubin says he is a believer in the idea of an afterlife, which inspired his writing of Ghost.
''I always wanted to do a movie from the side of a ghost. When I watched a theater production of 'Hamlet,' there is a scene where Hamlet's father appears as a ghost and I thought it was a great idea for a story in the 20th century. That's how it started,'' he said.
While Ghost was a phenomenal hit, Rubin avoided the temptation to produce a sequel. He wasn't convinced about a musical adaptation until Colin Ingram, now the producer of the show, got involved.
"I was approached by a number of people who wanted to do a musical and I kept saying no. It seemed unnecessary," he said.
"The producers of this production came to by my house in upstate New York and they talked so long that they missed train back to New York City. By the time we finished talking in the middle of the night, I had begun to see what we could do to make the play even richer than the movie.''
Rubin said he felt like the grandfather of the show.
"I am so proud of the Korean cast," he said. Rubin also found it reassuring that Korean audiences were reacting similarly to Western ones over the same scenes.
"I didn't know if the show could be translated into another language, another culture, but the audiences laughed in the same places. I find that very important because of the universality of the message. I think people are hoping for Sam and Molly to have one more moment together,'' he said.
Seensee Company, the Korean producer of the show, cast heartthrob Joo Won as Sam and K-pop singer Ivy as Molly. Veteran actors Kim Joon-hyun and Kim Woo-hyung will alternate as Sam and Park Ji-yeon for Molly.
"'Ghost the Musical'' runs through June 2014. Tickets cost from 60,000 to 130,000 won. For more information, visit www.iseensee.com or call (02) 577-1987.