WITH two Oscars and worldwide box office takings of $500 million, you’d imagine that the 1990 movie Ghost was an instant success. But actually the red carpet was a long time coming for writer Bruce Joel Rubin.
“I spent two years pitching the idea to producers and to studio executives and the story got better every time,” he recalls.
“They’d sit there with a glazed look in their eyes and I had to find a way of grabbing their attention.
“So I clapped my hands at the moment I was telling them about Sam being shot and the shock was so great that they jumped up and started listening to me. They were really intrigued by the idea of Sam looking at his own corpse.”
The movie, which starred Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore, has now been made into a stage musical, telling the same story of a murdered man’s ghost teaming up with a psychic to avenge his death and resolve matters with his fiancé – but with added songs.
Rubin, whose other screenplays include Jacob’s Ladder, Deep Impact and The Time Traveller’s Wife, is intrigued by the idea of what happens at death.
“Your life is a very big deal but is it a complete blank-out at the end?” he asks. “When you reach that stage of your life, are you held accountable for what you may or may not have done?
“And if you are held accountable, who or what is judging you? Often people are not so much bad – they simply don’t follow the rule-book. The Ten Commandments I use as my rulebook.”
Rubin has always had a weakness for ghost stories with a particular affection for Caspar the Friendly Ghost and for Topper, the hero of a number of films in the 1930s and 40s, with Cary Grant as the charming spectre.
“In a way, I wanted to tell a ghost story from the point of view of a ghost, looking back on his life” he explains. “Hamlet’s father was a key part of my thinking.
“He orders Hamlet to avenge his murder and I started to wonder how this story would play in New York City in 1990.
“I just want to plant seeds in people’s minds and to encourage them to think about death, about not being alive.
“Most people have only a month, perhaps, or even a couple of seconds to prepare for the next stage and we have a duty to let go. You should use your life to let go of your life.
“When that plane landed in the Hudson a couple of years ago, one of the men involved went out on to a wing of the plane and apparently said to himself ‘Am I dead? And is my spirit like the guy in Ghost?’
“You write a movie and you hope to expose people to the mystery of life and death. Perhaps Ghost, the movie and the stage musical, gives people their Sunday School moment of realisation about the mystery of life.”
Of course, as well as provoking a lot of thought, the film had broad international appeal and was a spectacular success at the box office, so it was no great surprise that Rubin came under considerable pressure to write a sequel or to give his permission for the story to be turned into a stage musical.
He firmly rebuffed every approach until two producers appeared with whom Rubin felt an immediate rapport.
“They came to my home and we talked for so long that they missed their train back to New York and had to stay over,” he recalls.
“I had a vision of how the emotional moments in the story could be sung and how in that way, it would be more deeply felt. I saw opportunities.
“It is so seamlessly achieved that even with 17 songs, the stage show runs for the same length of time as the movie.”
Rubin attended rehearsals to watch the musical taking shape and says: “I sat in a state of awe, surrounded by an extraordinary level of creativity. I watched as the show developed stage by stage, as it flowered into full bloom.
“When we opened in Manchester, I didn’t know what to expect. At the end of the first performance, there was a level of response which I’d never experienced – people stamping their feet, whistling and cheering.
“The director Matthew Warchus warned me that this kind of audience reaction was all very well but we couldn’t be certain about what we had until it happened five nights in a row, and we had it on every night.
“Something in Ghost The Musical speaks to the audience. They laugh, they cry and in the transfer from screen to stage musical, I think that the story has deepened emotionally.”
Ghost The Musical opens at the New Victoria Theatre, Woking, on Tuesday (November 12) and runs until Saturday, November 23.