Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Ghost the Musical: Schmaltz on Stage Works

I was super skeptical about all the hype surrounding Ghost the Musical.  I hated the movie.  I thought it was terrible.  Cheesy and sentimental and just kind of nauseating.  But despite my better judgment I decided to check out the London stage production.  Shortly after I bought my ticket I heard it would be transferring to Broadway.  Still I was skeptical. In classic Mildly Bitter fashion, my eyes were pre-rolling before the curtain came up. 

To my surprise the show works.  It's not Shakespeare.  It won't change your life.  And it's not the best musical of all time.  Stephen Sondheim need not fret.  But the material is so hyper-emotional it comes across as made for the musical stage--where emotion gets the better of characters who need to start singing about it.  I will admit I was taken in. 

There are a couple of things that make this production work:

1) Caissie Levy.  It's her show.  She carries the songs.  She's the emotional center.  She does all the heavy lifting and she's compelling.  She's sweet.  She's grieving.  I don't know.  She sucked me in.
2)  The music is very engaging and catchy when the lyrics are just plain awful.  I mean terrible.  I mean I am embarrassed that someone would put their name on some of those lyrics.  But the music somehow elevates them to ok.
3)  The visual design and landscape is very effective.  It involves projections and stage "illusions."  They give shape, color and dynamism to the play in a way that a fixed set would not have.  There are no story surprises for the audience, which is why I think the visual effects help so much because they offer the familiar story in a new package on stage.

The show sticks closely to the movie structure and storyline.  Nothing has changed in the 20 odd years since the movie came out.  I guess the sequences of dancing bankers could have new resonance with the "down with banker" rhetoric of today but really it's just a song and dance number.  Anyone looking for deeper meaning should not be at this show (that kinda includes me). 

Sharon Clarke who plays Oda Mae Brown is no Whoopi Goldberg but she does her job effectively.  She has big shoes to fill and she does fine. 

I did not like Richard Fleeshman as Sam.  He's buff and all but he had no charisma.  He did not seem sure of who his character was or what he was supposed to do.  His costuming is also a little weird.  He doesn't ruin it but I hope they recast the role before Broadway.  Sorry Richard.  I got no love for ya.

Of all the shows I saw in London this is the ONLY one to get a standing ovation.  I don't know what that says about anything....but audiences love it. 

So there you go peeps.  If Ghost the Musical comes to New York I think it might be worth checking out.  The music is on Spotify so give it a listen.  It was catchy enough to make bitter old me buy the ticket.

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