Review: Ghost the Musical

© Joan Marcus

 The current spate of Broadway musicalizations of hit movies hits another nadir with Ghost. This adaptation of the 1990 Patrick Swayze/Demi Moore film is mainly notable for its extravagant production values, which, appropriately enough, contains as many cinematic elements as live ones. Between the endless projections and the impressive recreations of the film’s special effects, the show seems less a Broadway musical than a multi-media amusement park attraction.


The story itself retains its--pardon the pun--haunting appeal, especially to young women for whom a dead lover is the least threatening of all. Bruce Joel Rubin’s adaptation of his Oscar winning screenplay hews closely to the original in its tale of star-crossed young lovers Sam (Richard Fleeshman) and Molly (Caissie Levy), who have an idyllic relationship other than the fact that he has the unfortunate habit of replying “ditto” whenever she says she loves him.


But just as they’ve moved into their funky new Brooklyn apartment they find themselves separated by the Great Divide when Sam is gunned down in an apparent botched robbery. Except that Sam isn’t really gone—he sticks around in spectral form, pining for Molly while also trying to protect her from the nefarious figure, not to revealed here, who engineered his demise.


Helping him is the one person who can hear, if not see him—Oda Mae Brown (Da’Vine Joy Randolph), a colorful con artist psychic who discovers, much to her consternation, that her powers are not entirely faked.


Sam’s being trapped between this world and the next provides the show’s raison d’etre, as his spectral state is vividly conveyed in a series of technical set pieces designed by illusionist Paul Kieve. Most notable is a sequence in a subway car in which Sam does battle with a surly ghost (Tyler McGee) from whom he hopes to learn the secret of moving objects with his thoughts.


Although it’s mostly played as romantic melodrama, would-be comic relief is provided by Randolph’s Oda Mae, costumed in a series of grotesque outfits. Although sh certainly scores laughs as the character for whom Whoopi Goldberg won an Oscar, her wildly over-the-top turn ultimately proves more grating than amusing.


But while the story still works, the bland score by Dave Stewart (The Eurythmics) and pop songwriter Glen Ballard (the composer of hits for Michael Jackson, Alanis Morissette, Aerosmith and countless others) doesn’t. Filled largely with forgettable power-pop ballads, it mainly serves to pad out the show’s running time. Thankfully, there are several, if all too brief, renditions of the classic “Unchained Melody” to alleviate the musical torpor.


Speaking of which, the show forgoes a major opportunity by failing to reprise the movie’s most iconic scene, in which potter Molly sensuously crafts one of her creations while being lovingly caressed by the ghostly Sam as the Righteous Brothers classic soars on the soundtrack.  


The two leads--repeating their performances from the original London production--are pretty to look at and sing well enough. But neither brings much more than sex appeal to their roles, although for this show’s target audience that may well be enough.


Matthew Warchus’ staging, which features a large ensemble and numerous large-scale but entirely superfluous production numbers, is the most elaborately tricked-out one on Broadway—other than Spider Man: Turn Off the Dark, of course. Whether that’s enough to propel it to success is another story. But then again, this time last year who would have predicted that the Spidey musical would still be going strong?


Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, 205 W. 46th St. 877-250-2929.