Monday, July 16, 2012

“Ghost: The Musical” – A spirit in the material world wanders the Great White Way

By Mark A. Newman

Granted, saying that a musical is much better than you expected is not exactly high praise but that’s exactly how I’ve been describing Ghost: The Musical currently at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre on Broadway. The story is familiar, the cast is likable, the music is inoffensive if forgettable, the direction by Matthew Warchus is quickly paced and presents the story of ill-fated lovers Sam (Richard Fleeshman) and Molly (Caissie Levy) in a tidy, overproduced package that will please casual theatergoers and offend theater aficionados.

The story is pretty much the same story from the movie starring Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore: banker Sam and artist Molly are deeply in love, Sam is murdered and wanders around the afterlife until he stumbles upon storefront psychic Oda Mae Brown (a show-stopping Da’Vine Joy Randolph), whom he gets to communicate with Molly while he discovers who killed him and why. The bad guys get what’s coming to them and the moral of the story is, I guess, love conquers all…even when one of the lovers is an apparition.

Despite my faint praise above, Ghost would not be as remotely entertaining without the triumphant performance of Randolph or the splashy special effects that include ghostly illusions, LED walls, and manic projections, not to mention lighting and cable tricks thrown in for good measure. Randolph, the only Tony-nominated aspect of this show, is a star in the making in what has now become the obligatory “sassy black diva” role. She conveys fear, anger, confusion, and even greed in a way the ropes the audience in and keeps them on her side.

While the leads are certainly likable and talented enough, there’s really nothing outstanding about either one of them, aside from Fleeshman’s abs which are prominently featured in ads for the show but only make a single appearance. Note to the director: Your audience is young girls and gay men. Ripped abs are to be showcased, not hidden in the shadows. Miss Saigon taught us all that. But I digress…

As Carl, Sam’s slimy co-worker who may or may not be complicit in his demise, Bryce Pinkham really brings on the smarm. He has a creepiness to him that is offputting and he even vaguely resembles Tony Goldwyn who played the role in the movie. Even when he reveals his own chiseled torso there’s still an ick factor present that sent a collective shiver through the audience. Also, Michael Balderamma as thug Willie Lopez shines in the largest role I’ve ever seen him in. Typically a dance captain or featured dancer (Movin’ Out, In the Heights, etc.), Balderamma shows off considerable acting chops.

Sadly, the score by The Eurythmics’ Dave Stewart along with Glenn Ballard is pretty underwhelming. The tunes all seem to run together and don’t really have a cohesive link. They could be in a musical about lab rats, the life of Martin Van Buren, or a musicalization of  The Poseidon Adventure. Other than the overused and often-inserted “Unchained Melody”—oddly how often that song pops up to remind Molly of her dearly departed Sam—the score is unimaginative, dull, and forgettable.

Luckily the show rises above its tunes, but only on the shoulders of Randolph’s hilarious star turn and some of the most advanced special effects on Broadway. Still, it’s not the worst show of the season (that would be the bilious Leap of Faith), nor is it the best. But for a night at theatre, you could do a lot worse.   

Ghost: The Musical

Featuring: Caissie Levy (Molly), Richard Fleeshman (Sam), Da’Vine Joy Randolph (Oda Mae), Bryce Pinkham (Carl) and Michael Balderamma (Willie Lopez), with Moya Angela, Jason Babinsky, James Brown III, Stephen Carrasco, Sharona D'Ornellas, Jeremy Davis, Josh Franklin, Albert Guerzon, Afra Hines, Carly Hughes, Karen Hyland, Alison Luff, Tyler McGee, Vasthy Mompoint, Jennifer Noble, Joe Aaron Reid, Lance Roberts, Constantine Rousouli, Jennifer Sanchez, Daniel Watts, and Jesse Wildman.

Book & Lyrics by Bruce Joel Rubin
Music by Dave Stewart and Glenn Ballard

Sound design: Bobby Aitken
Video and projection design: Jon Driscoll
Costume & Scenic design: Rob Howell
Illusions Designer: Paul Kieve
Lighting Designer: Hugh Vanstone
Choreographer: Ashley Wallen
Director: Matthew Warchus

Orchestrations: Christopher Nightingale
Music Direction: David Holcenberg

Lunt-Fontanne Theatre
205 West 46th Street
New York, NY 10036

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