Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Ghost the Musical @ Lunt-Fontanne Theatre

In 1990, a new kind of romance captivated movie audiences around the world as the supernatural took over.  Ghost became an instant romance classic with heart throbs Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore and soon to be Academy Award winner Whoopi Goldberg.  Years later the romance lives on live on stage; following a successful run in London, Ghost the Musical has now hit the Great White Way.  Staying true to the movie, this new musical still has the same story full of passion and heart; however, something has been lost in translation.  Giving itself over completely to state-of-the-art technology, this production lets the story fall to the sidelines in order to showcase stunning lights, projections, and illusions.  And, most important of all in a musical, the songs lack the melodies and beats that all brilliant musicals have.  Ghost the Musical is full of flash and glamour, but lacks the niceties of a great new Broadway musical.
Sam Wheat and Molly Jensen are in love, even if Sam has trouble saying those three little words.  Life is good for this couple - Sam is a high end banker in the city, Molly is an artist whose working is getting recognition, and together they just purchased a New York flat.  Soon, however, Sam notices some assets in the company are out of place, and his right-hand-man Carl Bruner knows why and has to put an end to the investigation.  While walking the streets of NYC one night, Sam and Molly are robbed at gun point and Sam is shot; however, his soul remains trapped on Earth where one person and one person only can hear him, the fake psychic Oda Mae Brown.  Together, Sam and Ode Mae must put an end to Carl in order to save the one person that means everything to him, Molly.  All three learn that love never dies.
As a whole, the ensemble worked nicely with one another to create the hustle and bustle of the New York streets - everyday workers and spirits coming together as one.  Taking on the iconic roles of Sam and Molly are Richard Fleeshman (West End’s Legally Blonde) and Caissie Levy (Hair).  Together this pair was spot on; however, when apart the different levels of talent came out.  Levy has a wonderful voice and delivers a performance that is truthful and full of life; taking command of several ballets and plenty of alone time on stage is no easy feat, but she handles it with lots of energy and passion.  Fleeshman has a nice voice, a great six-pack, but lacked some of the needed chemistry.  While it is not easy to constantly be in every scene as an outside observer, Fleeshman felt very distant from the rest of the real world; the connections felt very distant and cold … not the qualities that make for a great romance.  Playing the not so nice third wheel is Bryce Pinkham (Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson) as Carl.  Pinkham finds that medium between ‘straight up jerk’ and ‘best friend’ - a device that can often be hard to obtain.  The true star of Ghost the Musical, however, is new comer Da’Vine Joy Randolph as the one and only Oda Mae Brown.  Stealing all of the jokes, well written songs, flashy costumes, and big dance number, some may think that Randolph has it made; however, stepping into a role loved by millions is far from easy to pull off.  With a role that could easily be over the top, she finds the truth in this woman making her a down to earth person … who can hear dead people, of course.  This will only be the start of this highly gifted woman’s career!
From start to finish, the musical set out to be a technical mastermind, and in this regard, it succeeds.  Director Matthew Warchus (La Bête) assembled some of the best technical staff one could find - from high end projections to stunning lighting, Ghost the Musical is a design triumph.  Rob Howell (Private Lives) and Jon Driscoll (Brief Encounter) work beautifully together as the scenic designer and projection designer respectively.  Made up of tons of moving LED screens that transform into a New York flat, high end office buildings, and a subway station, these visual elements were taken to the next level.  The work from these two designers was nothing short of brilliant; even Hugh Vanstone’s (God of Carnage) lighting design was breathtaking.  Lighting the space in an ominous way really brought the atmosphere of the piece into the whole theatre allowing the audience to get lost in the world of the supernatural.  The only problem, which was a big one, is the fact that all of these design elements were a pleasant distraction from the weak book by Bruce Joel Rubin (screenwriter of the original 1990 film) and awkward songs from music icons Glen Ballard and Dave Steward.  While the book does not altar much from the original concept, long ranting songs with not clear melody constantly interrupt the flow of the scenes needed to make the audience connect to the characters the way everyone did twenty-one years ago.  Overall, the weak book and songs are overshadowed by the high end technical elements that are truly beautifully done.
Rumors are going around that this latest movie-turned-musical is a sure fired flop; however, this is not all true.  There are several lovely performances from the likes of Caissie Levy and Da’Vine Joy Randolph, wonderful lighting and projections, and a reminder of the truly moving story line that captivated audience’s years earlier on screen.  Ghost the Musical is a plesent new musical with kick ass designs … just know that one’s love of the songs will die very quickly … that is if they will be able to remember any of them the next day.

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