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Ghost: The Musical (Review)

Musical based on film has more flash than heart

By Rick Pender · September 25th, 2013 · Onstage
ghostPhoto: Broadway Across America
If you’re a fan of romantic films, you’re surely familiar with Ghost from 1990. It’s the story of a young couple — she’s an artist, he’s a banker — who is separated by a seemingly random crime. But there’s more to it than that, and his departed spirit isn’t free to move on until he completes some unfinished business as a ghost. That includes protecting her from a friend turned bad guy and using a silly psychic as his intermediary. Whoopi Goldberg, already a star, won an Academy Award as the latter, and Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze added some luster to their own careers as the couple. 

Alas, producers of musical theater are always on the prowl for material that already has some emotional traction and romantic tales that were films when today’s audiences were young and in love are ripe for conversion into theatrical works. It’s possible to do this with some success, but I’m afraid that the folks who’ve translated the film into Ghost: The Musical didn’t have enough faith in the story: They decided instead to resort to as much (perhaps too much) technology as they could cram onto a stage to trick this tale out for modern audiences.

Bruce Joel Rubin, who wrote Ghost’s Academy Award-winning screenplay, adapted it for the stage; it’s worth noting that he has not written for the theater. Dave Stewart (half of the award-winning Eurhythmics) teamed with Glen Ballard (who wrote material for Michael Jackson and Alanis Morissette) for the music; again, no stage experience. A very credible stage director was recruited: Matthew Warchus (who staged God of Carnage, a Tony winner) but he’s not known for staging musicals.

The show had a try-out in England, generating critical excerpts including “eye-poppingly brilliant” and “unlike anything seen on stage before” — remarks that don’t say much about storytelling.

The show had a Broadway run a year ago, and it’s just beginning a national tour: After a week in Schenectady, N.Y., it’s landed in its first big city: Cincinnati, where it has a two-week run at the Aronoff Center, through Oct. 6.

The stage production of Ghost: The Musical is visually spectacular, using dazzling, sometimes dizzying, video technology that I expect will become more and more common with such shows, especially those that hope to recreate the special effects of films. (This production lists an illusionist among its credits.) They work very well, and if that’s your thing, then you might find this show worth seeing.

However, if you’re like a lot of theatergoers I know who love musicals because they have heart, well, you barely have a “ghost” of a chance to find one here. I’m sorry to say that this production, despite its throbbing score, barely has a romantic pulse. As Sam and Molly, Steven Grant Douglas and Katie Postotnik look right and they can certainly belt out Stewart and Ballard’s score, but the chemistry between them seems mechanically and electronically manufactured, not genuine. As the goofball psychic, Carla R. Stewart evokes some extended laughs, but if you’ve seen the movie, there’s nothing new here. I’m afraid that the creators of this piece hoped the film’s romantic aura would be conjured up by audience’s memory rather than actually drawing us into the depth of feeling that keeps Sam trying to connect, Molly yearning for him and Oda Mae bouncing between them as an odd intermediary.

What we are bombarded with is a lot of frenetic action that doesn’t really build much emotion for the story. Athletic dancers remind us that New York City is a crazy, busy place. Oda Mae’s psychic parlor is overpopulated with a cadre of other ghosts who seem to have raided a costume shop for miscellaneous get-ups. There’s so much busy video that it’s never easy to detect the emotional bond that should be the show’s strongest feature. Too much is loud and overlong.

I can’t say that no one enjoyed the show: The Righteous Brothers’ hit song, “Unchained Melody,” comes at us several times over, so there’s a song that many people will recall. They might also appreciate a few good moments, including Sam and Molly’s initial duet, “Here Right Now,” and Oda Mae’s funny “Talkin’ ’Bout a Miracle,” when she momentarily possesses a check for $10 million. But these are not enough to sustain this show for me. 

Ghosts are lifeless; despite all the flash in this show, Ghost: The Musical is lifeless, too.

GHOST THE MUSICAL, presented by Broadway in Cincinnati at the Aronoff Center for the Arts downtown, continues through Oct. 6.



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