Ghost The Musical Review
Ghost grossed half a billion dollars and won an Academy Award for Whoopi Goldberg and for its screenplay, so perhaps it was inevitable the 1990 film would eventually be made into a musical. What was not inevitable is how spectacular Ghost the Musical is.
Ghost the Musical, a British import, is spectacular not because of the music, although the original score offers a range of serviceable pop melodies (from rock ballads to blues, soul and gospel) by two songwriters who know what they’re doing; one created hits for Michael Jackson and Alanis Morissette, the other, Dave Stewart, paired with Annie Lennox as The Eurythmics. It also isn’t spectacular because of the dancing. It isn’t even the performers.
Lord knows, it’s not because of its plot. In writing the book of the musical, Ghost screenwriter Bruce Joel Rubin faithfully follows his movie scene by scene, with its uneasy marriage of romance, science fiction, comedy and crime thriller: Sam is unable to say he loves Molly until he is killed in what at first seems like a random mugging; he returns as a ghost and employs con artist psychic Oda Mae Brown to help him communicate with Molly and bring the killer to justice. Despite its Oscar and its blockbuster success, the film remains memorable only for Whoopi’s moments of frantic clowning, and for the scene — with “Unchained Melody” playing in the background (“Oh my love, my darling….I need your love/God speed your love to me”) — where lovers Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore sensually embrace each other while fondling the oozing clay at the pottery wheel.
That scene is replicated in Ghost The Musical, but it is something of a disappointment. How could it be otherwise? It is too familiar — in the running for the most parodied scene in the history of Hollywood.
Still, Ghost the Musical is a literally spectacular stage show. It makes better use of video projections than any previous show on Broadway. Even before the curtain rises, you suddenly notice something odd about the night-time scene of New York that seems painted on it; the water in the harbor is gently rippling. Once the show begins, we are taken on a vertiginous joyride, flying in the air between the skyscrapers, touring ground-level through various New York neighborhoods, passing underground between dangerously speeding subway cars. We even travel close-up between the lovers’ bodies!
No other current Broadway show – and, I would wager, no Broadway show ever – has had an illusionist as part of the design team, certainly not an illusionist as illustrious: Paul Kieve taught magic to Daniel Radcliffe and served as a magic consultant on a Harry Potter film. The special effects we long have taken for granted in the movies have now come to a Broadway stage. Sam leaves his body as a ghost right before our eyes, with both the lifeless body and the blue-tinted ghost then occupying the stage simultaneously. Sam walks through walls, he leaps into trains, he even ascends to the heavens; the bad guys are taken down to the netherworld by little red meanies.
Even when we are just visiting the former Wall Street offices of Sam the dead banker, the set is so awash in LED displays of stock-market numbers – blue ones flashing by horizontally, then red ones dripping down vertically – that it evoked for me the cutting-edge stagecraft of Enron. In case you suspect the analogy some kind of snarky comment, since that show bombed in New York: I considered Enron a kind of high-tech, multimedia performance art. Its design struck me as a glimpse into the future of theater; judging from “Ghost,” I was right.
Not every effect in ‘Ghost” is, well, effective, and there are drawbacks to relying so heavily on state-of-the-art technology. The performance I attended was halted for 20 minutes while they fixed a malfunction in the set.
But this is not a replay of Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark, not the least because nobody has been reported hurt. The bells and whistles are also better integrated into the story, and the story focuses on the romance. There is even some real humor, thanks to newcomer Da’Vine Joy Randolph as the helpful psychic.
Randolph also supplies “Ghost” with its irrefutable show-stopping numbers, “Talkin About A Miracle and “I’m Outta Here.”
The performers may not be the primary reason to see this show, but they are certainly not a reason to stay away. Both hunky Richard Fleeshman, making his Broadway debut, and Caissie Levy, who’s been in Hairspray and Wicked and played Sheila in the recent revival of Hair, are appealing performers with strong voices. Near the beginning, Fleeshman picks up a guitar to serenade Levy with “Unchained Melody,” and I thought I detected a few swoons in the auditorium. When the two of them have a ghostly duet with the help of Randolph as Oda Mae, it is a magical moment in more than one way.
The fourth lead, Bryce Pinkham, who was magnificent in the Orphans Home Cycle and Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson, here has the thankless role of Carl Bruner, the evil best friend, and does what he can.
But, yes, the true stars of “Ghost Musical” are illusionist Paul Kieve along with projection designer Jon Driscoll, lighting designer Hugh Vanstone, and set and costume designer Rob Howell who have put together a visual spectacle on Broadway unprecedented in its technical artistry.
Director Matthew Warchus, whose previous directorial efforts on Broadway have tilted toward sophisticated comedies, the Broadway equivalent of art house movies — Art, God of Carnage, The Norman Conquest – is here trying something new. I’m not sure he is presiding over the Broadway equivalent of a date movie; it seems closer to the Broadway equivalent of a theme park ride. That’s not a put-down. The best rides are exhilarating.
Ghost the Musical
At the Lunt-Fontanne Theater
Book and lyrics by Bruce Joel Rubin, based on the Paramount Pictures film he wrote.
Music and lyrics by Dave Stewart and Glen Ballard
Directed by Matthew Warchus; designed by Rob Howell; choreography by Ashley Wallen; lighting by Hugh Vanstone; illusions by Paul Kieve; sound by Bobby Aitken; musical supervisor, arranger and orchestrator, Christopher Nightingale; projections and video by Jon Driscoll; musical director, David Holcenberg
Cast: Richard Fleeshman (Sam Wheat), Caissie Levy (Molly Jensen), Da’Vine Joy Randolph (Oda Mae Brown), Bryce Pinkham (Carl Bruner), Michael Balderrama (Willie Lopez) and Lance Roberts (Hospital Ghost).
Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes with one intermission.
Buy tickets to Ghost The Musical
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