Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Ghost the Musical: Cheese Washes Ashore

I saw a preview of Ghost the Musical on Broadway while it was still working out the kinks in the show.  I know changes have been made since I saw it but I think after seeing it in London and now New York my feelings about the show are frozen even if the show I saw here was not.  But take my review with a grain of unfrozen salt...

Directed by Matthew Warchus, with music by Dave Stewart and Glen Ballard, book and lyrics by Bruce Joel Rubin, I was surprised that I enjoyed Ghost in London. It was a major cheese-fest but the love story as staged did get to me. 

Now that it is here in New York and my relaxed vacation brain has been replaced with my cynical New York brain I wondered if I would react the same...in short, I did. 

The thrust of the story remains the same as the movie (and the production in London).  Molly (Caissie Levy) and Sam (Richard Fleeshman) are a happy couple who have just moved in together.  A mugger kills Sam in front of Molly, and Sam's ghost finds himself trapped between the worlds.  He discovers his mugging was no accident and he finds out Molly is in danger from people he thought he could trust including his best friend Carl (Bryce Pinkham).  He finds a psychic, Oda Mae Brown (Da'Vine Joy Randolph)  who can hear him and enlists her aid to protect and communicate with Molly.

The visual effects in this production remain an incredible stage achievement.  From a subway car that splits apart on stage, to ghosts, and dead bodies, the entire look of the show is a triumph. I liked how the LED lighting created real sets that "felt" very specific and not like some sort of painful digital rendering (Atari style is definitely the look of Jesus Christ Superstar's LEDs as well as Magic/Bird).  There is a moment where there is a sunset coming through the windows of Molly's apartment and for a moment I swear you believe it is actually a sunset.  The stage magic is truly spectacular and leaves you gasping.

I still found myself sucked into the love story particularly through Caissie Levy's ballads (which I think could be lovely pop music numbers outside the show).  Caissie Levy remains a winning heroine and her scenes of grief are legitimately touching.  But...

...the ensemble numbers were a real chore to get through this time.  They did not move the story ahead, they did not add to the characters or to the setting. 
...the music and lyrics, beyond Caissie's songs, are otherwise forgettable.
...I still was never won over by Richard Fleeshman in a role that is underwritten.  He's got two things to do: shout or be confused.   Wait, he has a third thing to do: show you his very fine abs.  Which he does.  He's supposed to drive the narrative so his feckless performance bothered me more the second time around.
...some of the projections are just ridonkulous.  I swear I don't remember the giant Richard Fleeshman head being projected on the screens in London.  As much as I liked a lot of the stage "magic" the New York production seems more heavy on unnecessary projections.
...I was bored a lot more than I was in London.

Ghost is not as craptacular as Jesus Christ Superstar.  So if there is one cheese-fest you attend on Broadway this season I'm sorry to say JCS is the one you should see.  It's a little unfair.  JCS has Andrew Lloyd Webber's infectiously catchy music.  But if you have a little extra dough (you can lotto it and probably get a ticket) and want to see a show that is visually unlike any other on Broadway then I think you should check out Ghost.

I am not the type of person to encourage special effects and spectacle over character-work or a strong book but the visual effects used here are so impressive I think people who go to the theater would appreciate the skill and inventiveness used in the production (if only the story and music/lyrics were as skillful).  Between Ghost and Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark I would recommend Ghost.  Spider-Man is just boring beginning to end.  Ghost, at least, has whole scenes and moments of engaging story and some truly beautiful songs.  But the good bits of true emotional resonance are buried among needless ensemble numbers.  It's muddled mess but I found myself enjoying parts of it and will still buy some of the tracks off the cast album to listen to. 

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