Playing a character acting as if they can’t see a “dead” person takes some practice.
Particularly when that person is standing only inches from you.
“It’s a very strange dynamic,” says Carla R. Stewart, who plays kind-hearted psychic Oda Mae Brown in “Ghost the Musical” coming Tuesday to the Straz Center. “I can see the person, but I can’t make eye contact, which is hard because with acting you rely so much on your partner. And I rely on him for a good chunk of the show.”
The deceased person Stewart isn’t supposed to see — at least until the end — is Sam Wheat, played by Steven Grant Douglas, a character stuck between two worlds after being murdered, in the touring production of “Ghost the Musical.”
Stewart has since come up with a solution.
“I see (Sam) as an annoying little brother,” she says with a laugh. “I hear him, but I don’t take the time to look at him, though there were times we caught eyes and he’d say, ‘Stop looking at me.’ ”
As in the 1990 blockbuster movie, the musical adaptation tells the story of lovers Sam and Molly, (Katie Postotnik), who are attacked one evening. Sam dies but cannot cross over into the afterlife because of his love for Molly, whom he discovers is in grave danger. He enlists the help of medium Oda Mae Brown to help save her from harm.
The musical is based on the film starring the late Patrick Swayze as Sam, Demi Moore as Molly Jensen and actress and comic Whoopi Goldberg as Oda Mae Brown.
Stewart says she’s seen the movie numerous times, but after landing the role of Brown she refused to go back and watch Goldberg’s Oscar-winning performance.
“Because she did win (the Academy Award) I didn’t want to watch it,” says the Chicago native. “She’s very tied to the role, and people can’t think of the movie without thinking of Whoopi. I wanted the audience to see Oda Mae through my eyes and give people my version and not Whoopi’s.”
Stewart says Oda Mae is funny, like she is, but she had to work on her comedic timing.
“I hadn’t played a comedic role, so it’s a stretch for me,” adds Stewart, who’s also appeared on stage in “Ain’t Misbehavin,” “Rent,” “Grease,” “Hairspray,” and “The Wiz.” “It’s very tough being a comic. You may think you’re funny, but you want your peers and the audience to think so.”
Stewart calls the musical a beautiful roller coaster ride with special effects that will leave the audience asking, “How’d they do that?”
“On film, they’re able to pull off a lot of special effects,” says Stewart. “But when you see Sam pass through the door on stage right before your eyes, you have to see it to believe it. It’s really mind blowing.”