Natchez native writes music, lyrics for ‘Ghost’ the musical

Published 1:46 pm Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Natchez native Glen Ballard, a six-time Grammy Award winning producer, songwriter and arranger, penned the lyrics and wrote music for “Ghost” the musical. The musical will open in London in July and in New York in 2012.

NATCHEZ — The drama, the memorable characters, the steamy love scene — fans of “Ghost” will have an opportunity to experience the story on the stage under the musical stylings of Natchez native Glen Ballard.

Ballard, a six-time Grammy Award winning producer, songwriter and arranger, said writing lyrics for and composing his first musical has been a fulfilling experience.

“Ghost” was a popular film produced in 1990 with Hollywood’s heavy-hitters including Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore and Whoopi Goldberg.

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Ballard said audiences reacted strongly to the musical, which has run in sold-out pre-shows for six weeks in Manchester, England.

“It was quite phenomenal,” Ballard said. “Incredible reaction — standing ovations every night. And we expect it will get better.”

Ballard said writing and composing music for a musical is a different than albums or films.

“With musicals, it’s a richer, deeper involvement with storytelling,” Ballard said. “It also gives you the opportunity to have deeper, richer score because you can take the whole story and musicalize it. It allows the characters to lead you places you don’t go with a pop record.”

Each character in the stage version of “Ghost” has a musical personality, Ballard said.

“It’s a lot of fun, and it gives me a license to take detours musically,” Ballard said.

He said one of the biggest challenges to writing music for “Ghost” was to do the characters justice.

“The challenge is to understand characters in the story — you don’t want to damage what works about the piece,” Ballard said. “It’s like the oath — first do no harm.”

Ballard said one advantage to working on “Ghost” was to have Bruce Joel Rubin, who wrote the original screenplay, in the studio with him. Rubin won an Academy Award for “Ghost.”

“He knows the deep background of the characters,” Ballard said. “And I feel like I got to know these characters like friends. Molly Jensen and Oda Mae Brown, in the movie, you see them do what they do. In the show, you hear their inner voice — what they long for, what they dream about.”

Because “Ghost” filled theaters and created such a following, Ballard has to contend with audience expectations, which he believes are exceeded so far.

He said audiences will hear “Unchained Melody” from the memorable love scene, where Molly and Sam’s affections manifest at a potter’s wheel. But musical-goers will get more than that.

“(Audiences) will feel this great emotion that this story gives you,” Ballard said. “Love, death, spirituality — some of the real fundamental issues of life in a beautiful way.”

Ballard said that the musical is a stunning visual experience and a modern-looking show, under the direction of Matthew Warchus.

“I was inspired by just seeing the staging and choreography,” Ballard said.

Ballard is currently working in his studio in Los Angeles, mixing the “Ghost” cast recording that will be available at shows.

He attended Cathedral School and graduated from Natchez High School before enrolling at Ole Miss in the mid 1970s.

Ballard said Natchez has special energy, and growing up in town developed him into the person he is today. He said Natchez is also an environment where art can take root.

“Natchez always embraced the artist spirit,” Ballard said. “It has a unique personality in the South — some sort of creative vortex. It has a certain magic, and people from all over feel that.”

While Ballard’s career takes him all over the world, there is still no place like home.

“As a child I thought Natchez was enchanted place — a mysterious and wonderful city. And it’s really special and dear to me.”

Ballard’s advice to young people in the Miss-Lou who would like to follow are career in music is to be comfortable performing and to cultivate an identity.

“Try to develop your own musical personality,” Ballard said. “Development takes place out there in the world. Make a commitment to it. It’s not easy, but there is a reward for doing what you like to do.”

Ballard said he is also working on five new musicals.

“Ghost” opens in London in July, and is projected to open in New York by fall 2012.