By Madelyn Olsen
Way back in 1990 when most Roosevelt students were in diapers, Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore captured the hearts of audience members across the U.S. with the movie “Ghost.” This past month, the riveting story played out at the Oriental Theatre. Actress Carla R. Stewart, no stranger to the stage with parts in “Rent,” “Grease” and “The Wiz,” recently wrapped up her role as Oda Mae Brown in “Ghost the Musical” at the Oriental Theater.
Stewart was called to the stage at a young age, starting out singing around Chicago doing background vocals and singing in the pit for community theater. Stewart says she loved her first taste of being front and center as Cinderella at the Black Ensemble Theatre and is driven by the inspirational force of art.
“I just want to inspire people and know that I have the talent vocally, and incorporating acting with that I have the ability to inspire and motivate,” Stewart said. “And that drives me to do what I do and give my all every time I hit the stage.”
Stewart got the opportunity to show her talent in “Ghost the Musical.” The story follows Sam and Molly, two lovers who are separated by the unexpected murder of Sam. Stewart’s role as Oda Mae serves to drive the plot and connect Sam to Molly.
In order to play Oda Mae, Stewart had to look at Oda Mae in a special way.
“Everybody has their own lens to look through and create who she is, and for me she’s very serious in her own right, what she does is for real,” she said. “I just try to convey that for her that what she’s doing is a serious job while keeping her exciting and bright and on her toes.”
As far as Stewart and Oda Mae go, Stewart says she is “pretty in tune with who she is.”
“I’m pretty outgoing myself and loud so it’s not too far fetched for me to bring her to life,” she said. “Every night I might add a little something different but as far as getting prepared I come to the theatre, warm up, put on makeup, say a prayer, get out and do the show.”
Stewart has learned many lessons from playing Oda Mae, including how important it is to listen.
“Oda Mae has to listen because her scene partner is someone she can’t look at so she has to connect with someone she can’t see and keep her ears open and listen,” she said.
Stewart says she is enjoying playing such a “huge animated character,” one that Whoopi Goldberg made famous on the silver screen.
“[Oda Mae] is huge and bright and fun and lively, and I enjoy every aspect of who she is,” she said.
There are a couple of scenes in the musical that Stewart particularly loves.
One of the scenes in the show is when a flustered Oda Mae first meets Molly after having to deal with Sam.
“This is when the story starts unfolding for not only myself, but for Molly and Sam,” Stewart said. “I also love the bank heist—the scene with Mr. Ferguson in the bank—I love my lines in that scene.”
As much as Stewart loves how “bizarre, one of a kind, and larger than life” Oda Mae is, if she could play one other character it would be one of Oda Mae’s sisters.
“They caught my eye when I saw them on Broadway,” Stewart said.
While sometimes things can get lost in translation when adapting a musical from a film, Stewart said that stage production had many of the same elements as the film. For example, the pottery wheel scene from the film was featured along with many other scenes.
“But there’s more to fall in love with on the stage because … of the music, and bringing it life with the music, it can rekindle those old feelings you have [of watching the film] plus more to add to what you already love,” she explained.
While Stewart fell in love with her role and the amazing theme of love in the story, she is looking to the future.
“I look forward to doing film,” she said. “A musical theatre performer looking towards heading towards Broadway – write a piece of my own work.”