Friday, March 30, 2012

theatre review GHOST, Broadway, March 26

The new Broadway musical Ghost is not the worst musical I've ever seen but for one based on a hugely successful movie and with a book by the original film's screenwriter and a musical score by Dave Stewart of Eurythmics fame you would think that the most memorable elements of the show wouldn't be the sets and special effects. The show, which comes to Broadway after a successful run in London, and was directed by Matthew Warchus, is currently in previews and opens on April 23rd.

For those not familiar with the Oscar winning film, the plot of the musical is pretty much exactly the same as the movie.  Ghost tells the tale of Sam and Molly, two twenty somethings in love who have just moved into a new home in Brooklyn.  Sam is a powerful financial analyst and when he is killed toward the beginning of the story he finds himself trapped between this world and the next.  When he discovers who his killer is he stumbles upon a phony psychic who can hear him and together they try to save Molly from being murdered as well.

The two stars of the original London production are recreating their roles in the Broadway run and they are both quite good in both the acting and singing categories, it's just too bad that they aren't given better material.  Richard Fleeshman is Sam and Caissie Levy is Molly.  They both are good singers and realistically appear to be in love. 

Caissie Levy and Richard Fleeshman
My biggest problem with Ghost is that the musical numbers are all very similar, add very little to the show and at some times seem to just go on forever.  I actually can't even remember any of the songs after seeing the show and the co-writer of the score had many hit songs for The Eurythmics!  There are a couple of numbers that are given to the psychic Oda May Brown that stop the show and not in a good way, though Da’Vine Joy Randolph who plays Brown is the best thing in the show. Bruce Joel Rubin who adapted the stage version from his screenplay gives Brown the best lines in the show, and just like Whoopi Goldberg in the film version, Randolph delivers them in spades.   Though I must add that while most of the songs are loud and in the theatre you can't make out a lot of the lyrics, on the London Cast recording they are easy to understand and come off better then they do in the actual theatre.

Another problem with the show is the choreography and the use of the ensemble cast.  Ashley Wallen choreographed the show and it is truly some of the most amateurish work I've ever witnessed.  It is hard to describe but includes a lot of stilted movement with people freezing at various times in the middle of the songs.   The ensemble looks almost embarrassed for what they are having to do.

The musical even includes many film sequences that while somewhat effective are also at many times somewhat laughable.  During one romantic scene between Molly and Sam at the beginning of the show there are film projections showing close-ups of the two of them that are bordering on cheesy soft-core porn.  And worst of all, during the Overture where we get a lovely New York City skyline with moving water in the East River, there is even the name "Ghost" that appears on the screen as if we need to know the name of the show we are about to see.

It is really the special effects and the set design that get raves here.  Cool effects include showing Sam walking through a wall, ghosts rising out of their dead bodies and a ghost who haunts the subway stopping the subway and making the subway riders seem to rise up and be suspended in mid-air.  Paul Kieve provided the illusion design. I also liked the really simple use of blue lighting to highlight Sam at all times and make him seem ghostly.  The set design is also pretty amazing, though a little cluttered at times. Rob Howell designed the sets and his use of three large video walls that move around the stage are able to create the busy city streets of New York that move, a skyline of New York, streaming stock market figures and quickly allows the show to easily move from one location to the next.  It is just too bad that it seems like these walls have to constantly be moving, as if to say "look at what I can do" when by just having them be stationary at times would as easily relay the effect required.

If there was ever a show where the review "you come out humming the sets and not the music" was relevant, Ghost is that show.

Official Show Site

Highlights from the London Production- you can get a really good sense of the use of the video walls as well as see some of the horrible choreography! -

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