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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
GHOST: THE MUSICAL
at Lunt-Fontanne Theatre

THE SPIRIT IS WEAK
By JESSICA BRANCH

  Da‚ÄôVine Joy Randolph/ Ph: Joan Marcus

For a musical about the enduring power of love to transcend even death, this new show is remarkably soulless. For a high-tech spectacle featuring all kinds of high-tech hijinks, giant projections and ectoplasmic effects, it’s still pretty much without passion or panache.

The book and lyrics of Ghost: the Musical were penned by Bruce Joel Rubin (who also wrote the screenplay for the movie), with music and lyrics by Glen Ballard and Dave Stewart (of Eurythmics fame). The plot follows a young and extremely white-bread couple – Sam Wheat (Richard Fleishman), who’s described as a “banker,” though it’s not really clear what exactly he does, and his girlfriend Molly (Caissie Levy), an aspiring artist. They’ve just bought a loft in Brooklyn – an act of daring, for which they’re mocked by their guy Friday friend Carl (Bryce Pinkham). One evening, Molly tells Sam that she thinks she’s ready to get married – if only he can say those three little words instead of just echoing her protestations of love with “ditto.” He, bafflingly, bursts into song. Just then they’re mugged by an apparently random stranger (Michael Balderama) and Sam is fatally shot.

Trapped unhappily in limbo – apparently because he still needs to tell Molly of his feelings – he wanders around, trying to master basic ghosting skills and to figure out a way to communicate with Molly, who can’t see or hear him, and who is in danger because, as it turns out, Sam’s death was no accident. Reluctantly coming to the rescue is a charlatan psychic, Oda Mae Brown (Da’Vine Joy Randolph). She discovers that she can indeed hear the dead, and Sam, for one, never shuts up – until she agrees to serve as his go-between.

In all fairness, I should say I was not a big fan of the film, which I found bland and tedious. The addition of an extraordinarily uninspired, if inoffensive, score doesn’t help. While Oda Mae, up in Spanish Harlem (depicted as a scary hotbed of crime, superstitious rites and non-white people) gets a few relatively rousing if formulaic gospel and disco numbers, the majority of the music is soporific ballads sung by Sam and/or Molly – or scene-setting spectacles about life in New York. The acting and singing are generally competent. Randolph manages to eke a funny moment or two out of her caricature of a character, mostly when she’s sassing the insufferable Sam, and Levy and Fleishman both seem like they could do better if they had something to work with.

I assume that the real star of the show is meant to be the set, which incorporates electronic effects with far more sophistication than many others have done. The deafening roar and strobing lights of the subway add immensely to the power of Tyler McGee’s notable performance in the largely incomprehensible role of the Subway Ghost, allowing him to roll right over the part’s inadequacies, and the ghostly maneuvering through the obstacle course of the material world has its moments. But the opening sequence, a mad rush through the New York skyline projected on the backdrop, or the giant projections of Sam and Molly’s lovemaking, just make it feel like this is a musical for people who’d rather be at a movie. Or, possibly, playing Ghost: the Video Game.

Now that it’s on Broadway, though, what may be most disturbing for any New Yorkers who happen to see the show is its representation of New York. While I was watching, I assumed that it was meant to be set, like its precursor, in 1990s New York – hence the furniture, the insularity of its central couple, the depiction of the banking industry, the skewed view of everything outside central Manhattan. Turing to the program, I discovered that no, the action is meant to be taking place in the present day. That makes still more disturbing the barely disguised message of the musical “don’t go above 96th street – and God help you if you brave the boroughs.” It’s like In the Heights never happened.

 


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