BWW Reviews: GHOST THE MUSICAL Ascends to Otherworldly
Not every Hollywood-movie-turned-Broadway-musical, is, or deserves to be, a success. I will grant you The Producers, Hairspray and Little Shop of Horrors, but sometimes there's also Young Frankenstein or 9 To 5. Tony Award-winning director Matthew Warchus' production of GHOST the Musical, now through April 13 at the Hippodrome theater, shines with otherworldly luminescence.
I arrived at the lovely Hippodrome after a cheap and easy ($9! right next door!) park a little skeptical. The elevator ride was a hen gathering- me and eight other women- unsurprisingly, since the movie Ghost was a popular chick flick, which explains why I never saw it and knew little other than that it was a vehicle for Whoopi Goldberg and that Patrick Swayze spends most of it dead.
Writer Bruce Joel Rubin, who won an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay with Ghost in 1990, follows the movie's storyline closely. Additionally, he wrote an astonishing number of lyrics, considering he'd never written lyrics before. Dave Stewart and Glen Ballard, who wrote the show's music, share lyrical credit with Rubin, though many of his lyrics served primarily as inspiration for them and never appear in the show.
Do not expect Gilbert and Sullivan nor Rodgers and Hammerstein from the musical numbers. For the most part, they are serviceable and sturdy, though unsurprising and lyrically unimaginative. However, the musical arrangement and orchestration- just seven musicians create a depth and richness of sound that belies their number- by Christopher Nightingale is fancy enough to disguise this, especially when accompanied onstage by Ashley Wallen's energetic, clever choreography and the equally clever chorus of dancing singing actors.
The actors are fine. Katie Postotnik, playing Molly, has wonderful vocal range and emotive qualities as well as really nice hair, which may or may not be hers. Carla R. Stewart in the role of pseudo-psychic Oda Mae Brown along with Lydia Warr and Evette Marie White as her two white-gloved hallelujah attendants are comic gold. The physicality of Steven Grant Douglass as Sam and Brandon Curry as the Subway Ghost are remarkable. But the true star of this show is the tech.
Kudos to the costume designers, including Associate Costume Designer Daryl Stone- it's unusual to see business suits which permit pirouettes, and the church lady suits, which look like church lady suits, move like ice skating outfits. The set won a Drama Desk Award for its design, and not only creates 15 (yes, that's fifteen) different environments plus interstitials and montages, but moves like buttah. Aside from one minor crashing noise in the right wing (which the onstage actors ignored), the transitions were seamless, with set elements gliding on and off stage in seconds, as if pulled by invisible hands.
The "ghosting" of Sam is created entirely with sound and lighting effects. The lighting design originally created by Hugh Vanstone and recreated for this, the first North American tour of the show, by Joel Shier, is spectacular. Special props to Sam's ghost spot operator, as he or she was dead on target every moment. The interaction of lighting, sound, video, stage technology, choreography and illusions provide a visually exciting production that defies explanation.
Troika Entertainment integrates the different elements of this multi-media extravaganza delicately and with precise timing. There were many effects, as is appropriate for a show about the supernatural, some of which were created by Paul Kieve 's stage illusions ("magic" to the masses), some by lighting effects, some by artful blocking/choreography/additional movement (I'm looking at you, Liam Steel), some by specialized set mechanics... and I couldn't tell the difference between them. This is rather a big deal for me to admit: I've seen a lot of theatre, worked with a few stage magicians- sorry, "illusionists"- and usually can spot a Clara-behind-Drosselmeyer's-cloak moment, but I was genuinely astonished and charmed. I'm in good company: both David Copperfield and Teller of Penn and Teller praised the effects in this production. In particular, there was a spectacular subway train sequence that I immediately wanted to rewind and watch again the second it had concluded and a bit with umbrellas that I'm still pondering.
Try to squeeze this one into your schedule. Life's too short to let the good stuff pass by you. It's at the Hippodrome Theater, 12 North Eutaw Street, Baltimore, MD, now through April 12 at eight PM, with a matinee show Saturday at 2:00 PM and two shows Sunday: 1:00 PM and 6:30 PM. Visit 410-547-SEAT or Broadwayacrossamerica.com for tickets.