The halls of Canterville Chase are alive with the sounds of spirits in Doug Haverty and Adryan Russ’s tunefully entertaining new musical iGhost, now getting its World Premiere at the Lyric Theatre.

A 21st Century updating of Oscar Wilde’s The Canterville Ghost, iGhost transports Idaho art student Virginia to an English castle haunted by the ghost of a certain Sir Simon and managed by his bookish young heir Trevor. In the course of iGhost’s two acts, Virginia learns the reason for Sir Simon’s spectral occupancy of Canterville Chase (his artist wife Lucinda placed a curse on him, blaming her husband for the fall which caused her death), realizes that Trevor is far more than a fuddy-duddyish stuffed shirt, and vows to solve the riddle which can save Sir Simon from eternal confinement inside the walls of Canterville Chase, i.e. a fate worse than death.

iGhost’s World Premiere benefits from a number of excellent performances and some terrific songs. Lyrics by Russ and Haverty are amusing and adroit, and Russ has a bona fide gift for melody that will have you humming along to a number of her tunes upon first listening. Haverty’s book could explain several plot points more clearly, for example, what makes the attic off limits and what makes said attic impossible to escape from. Nonetheless, the script makes for a clever updating of Wilde’s late 19th Century tale, with title-appropriate references to iPods and broadband. (In an ingenious bit of writing, a pivotal scene has Sir Simon’s electric presence providing the high speed connection Canterville Chase lacks.)

Rebecca Johnson (Virginia) has been on L.A. theatergoers’ radar since 2007’s Zanna, Don’t, iGhost giving the redheaded stunner the best showcase yet for her beauty-next-door appeal and gorgeous voice. As Trevor, Zachary Ford’s leading man charms and resonant tenor sneak up on you just as they did in the Lyric’s 2009 production of Little Women. When Johnson and Ford become Fred and Ginger to Allison Bibicoff’s spiffy choreography, the result is magical. Completing the trio of leads as Sir Simon is Peter Welkin, a musical theater leading man whose time has come, particularly after last year’s Chess In Concert. Welkin is as handsome as a ghost should be, brings appropriate gravitas to the role, and proves himself ready for a go at the Phantom or Jean Valjean.

Paul Zegler and Bonnie Snyder bring decades of theatrical experience to the roles of Canterville servants Mr. and Mrs. Umney, playing their roles with charm and good humor, with Snyder singing a touching “From The Heart.” Dorrie Braun brings a lovely, delicate soprano to the role of Lucinda, particularly in a poignant “Every Shade Of Blue.”

Supporting the above sextet are a half-dozen talented musical theater up-and-comers—Erin Carter, Kayla Dillman, Courtney Freed (Ella), Matthew Frow, Tyler Milliron, and R. Scott Thompson (Lester)—essaying the roles of students, servants, and ghosts with considerable vocal prowess and verve. Andrew Appel is swing.

Veteran director Jules Aaron stages iGhost with sureness and imagination, the latter most evident when ghosts appear out of nowhere to haunt the living characters. (Scenic designer J.C. Gafford’s set design helps in the illusion that ghosts can walk through walls.)

Bibicoff’s choreography sparkles, both in ensemble numbers and couples dancing, however the authors might want to rethink the opening number, featuring Virginia and some fellow art students (who disappear immediately after). Though Bibicoff gives the students some pizzazzy footwork, the number is reminiscent of those ‘60s variety shows where pop singers would inevitably have backup dancers behind them regardless of the song. Since we never again catch sight of the international students, their presence in the iGhost opening “showstopper” seems all the more superfluous and I’d humbly recommend axing the international student sextet.

Instrumental accompaniment for iGhost’s vocals is provided by musical director/orchestrator Richard Berent, who performs live on keyboard over prerecorded tracks, resulting in a rich, full orchestration not normally found in intimate theater productions.

Gafford’s lighting design is effective as is Markia Tjelios’s appropriately supernatural sound design. Berent gets points for the production’s crystal clear orchestral amplification. Angela Eads’ costumes are colorful creations, with particular snaps for the ensemble’s multi-era ghost garb. At the performance reviewed here, Lucinda’s ill-fitting gown appeared to have wandered in from a production of Camelot, but has I’m told been redesigned. Stephanie Boltjes is stage manager.

Though iGhost could benefit from some additional tweaking (par for the course for a World Premiere musical), it nonetheless makes for an enjoyable addition to the musical theater library.

Lyric Theatre, 520 N. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles.
–Steven Stanley
May 28, 2011
Photos: Richard M. Johnson

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