BWW Reviews: GHOST: THE MUSICAL is Dead on Arrival
When GHOST: THE MUSICAL opened on Broadway it was met by a bevy of critical slams and was plagued by technical issues that would stall the production, sometimes giving audiences two intermissions. Originating in the UK, the tech heavy show received mixed reviews there. Now, the troubled movie turned musical turned theme-park ride is limping, zombie-like, across the nation in a Non-Equity National Tour. Luckily, the production is employing a modest handful of theatre professionals on and off the stage. In many ways, that is this overblown clunker of a show's only saving grace.
In 1991 Bruce Joel Rubin won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for his romantic 1990 film Ghost. He has returned to the world of Sam and Molly and penned the hokey Book and laughable Lyrics for the musical adaption. Following the plot of his film, Sam, a banker, and Molly, a sculptor, are a dewy-eyed couple. The show opens with them discovering additional square footage in their recently purchased industrial loft in Brooklyn. This celebration is soon overshadowed by the mugging and murder of Sam, which was orchestrated by Sam's best friend Carl. As a ghost, Sam has a hard time understanding that he cannot be seen or heard by the living, but chance has him run into the feisty psychic Oda Mae Brown, who he enlists as a proxy to help him protect Molly.
Dave Stewart of The Eurythmics and Glen Ballard aid with the risible Lyrics and are the creators of the wholly forgettable original music for the production. Sensationalized pop ballads abound with simplistic lyrics like "I see the sunrise from my window/ It must have risen everyday/ But I couldn't see at all/ The shadows were too tall/ But I am seeing it today." Moreover, the score interpolates Hy Zarel and Alex North's "Unchained Melody" into as many scenes and songs as it can. I hope the royalties for this pop gem were exorbitant; otherwise, there is neither rhyme nor reason for its exuberant overuse in the production.
Directing the US National Tour is Matthew Warchus, who also directed GHOST: THE MUSICAL for its World Premiere in Manchester, it West End run in London, and its UK National Tour. Under his reigns, the characters all have the zeal and flair of the unsettled teenagers on shows like Gossip Girl and Degrassi. Their emotionality runs so high that most of the production seems to be tangibly devoid of realistic human emotion. For example, when Oda Mae Brown utters "Ditto" to Molly to show that she really is communicating with Sam, the audience does not swoon with sentimentality. Instead a disingenuous "Awww" escapes our lips, matching the timbre of the insincere emotions parading on the stage in front of us.
Many of the cast members are making their National Tour debut in this production, and I feel certain most won't be listing it on their resumes the next time they enter New York City audition rooms. For the most part, each member of the company deserves praise for filling their performances with energy and life. As an ensemble they refuse to be stymied by this artless appeal to the gods of consumerism and they perform with gusto and talent. As Oda Mae Brown, Carla R. Stewart steals the show with her brassy portrayal of the sassy medium and con-artist hustler. However, the cast makes mistakes as well. For example, Katie Postotnik often had trouble finding pitch in the performance, Steven Grant Douglas' Sam Wheat usually comes across like a whiny and entitled spoiled brat, and Robby Haltiwanger's Carl Bruner is never truly menacing despite his duplicity.
GHOST: THE MUSICAL's biggest downfall is its technical elements. As a whole, the splashy special effects try to make audiences forget the music, lyrics, and living-breathing actors so we can be wowed by the technical feats happening on the stage. Unfortunately, what audiences of this National Tour are getting is spectacle that is so big that it forgets to be spectacular. Two large LED screens with moving parts play Jon Driscoll and Michael Clark's dizzying videos and interact with the projections they have designed. These elements bring a film-like quality to the stage, allowing for quick and seamless transitions from one location to another, but they are also incredibly hyper-realized and ostentatiously overdone. In the second act, Molly sings a ballad at her Brooklyn apartment while the screen behind her projects clouds passing over a fish-eye lens shot of buildings from Manhattan Island. I couldn't help but giggle and think, "Wait, did she move to the Top of the Rock?"
As the show progresses the technical faux pas only become more and more unintentionally comical. Shadowy figures frantically dance and strike poses in tandem with the chorus in the frenetic scenes meant to show audience the organized chaos of urban life. In a scene with projected rain, umbrellas conveniently lower from the sky for the use of ensemble. Eye-like pairs of beady red orbs surround the characters of Willie Lopez and Carl Bruner in their final moments. Lastly, in Sam's final moments, the LED screens fill with snow-like white orbs that match the ones being projected onto him, giving the impression that he has either become one of Stephanie Meyer's glittering vampires or is standing under a disco ball.
At the bottom line, some films just aren't meant to be musicals. Even though I found this experience to be particularly miserable, I did overhear a couple of middle-aged women gushing about how much they loved the show. Likewise, as many of the audience left grumbling about the show's weaknesses, some left smiling. I certainly appreciate the enthusiasm that this fresh-faced touring cast puts into this dreck, but I couldn't help but wonder if the show would be more enjoyable if they just cut loose and played it all for camp.
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours and 40 minutes with one intermission.
GHOST: THE MUSICAL, presented by Broadway Across America as part of Gexa Energy's Broadway at the Hobby Center, plays the Hobby Center's Sarofim Hall, 800 Bagby Street, Houston, 77002 now through February 23, 2014. Performances are Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8:00 p.m., Saturday at 2:30 p.m., and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. For tickets and more information, please visit http://houston.broadway.com or call (800) 952-6560.
Photos courtesy of Broadway Across America.
Cast of GHOST: THE MUSICAL. Photo by Joan Marcus.
Carla R. Stewart & Cast of GHOST: THE MUSICAL. Photo by Joan Marcus.