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I’ve never been ashamed to admit that the 1990 hit film, Ghost, is one of the few movies that made me cry during its final moments.
How anyone didn’t cry as Demi Moore and Whoopi Goldberg watched the late Patrick Swayze walk into the heavenly light is beyond me.
Twenty years later, the supernatural love story that asked us to “Believe” is now a musical. Already a hit in London, Ghost the Musical is now making its stateside debut on Broadway with Bruce Joel Rubin adapting his Oscar winning screenplay and co-writing the lyrics with Grammy winners Glen Ballard and Dave Stewart.
The original story remains intact as Sam (Richard Fleeshman), a Wall Street banker, and his girlfriend, Molly (Caissie Levy), a sculptor, fix up and move into an old New York City apartment. Not long after, Sam and Molly are approached by a mugger with a gun on their way home. Sam wrestles with the mugger, the gun goes off, and Sam reappears as the ghost of his former self.
Sam discovers that Molly’s life is still endangered. He goes to see self-proclaimed psychic, scam artist, Oda Mae Brown (Da’Vine Joy Randolph), for help. To Oda Mae’s surprise, she discovers that she actually has psychic abilities when she sees and hears Sam. Oda Mae goes to see Molly and convinces her that she and Sam’s messages are for real. Molly tells Sam’s former best friend and co-worker, Carl (Bryce Pinkham), about Oda Mae and he’s uneasy about Molly’s questions. Sam eventually discovers that his death was no accident and uses his new found connection with Oda Mae to save Molly’s life.
Director Matthew Warchus throws in enough special effects, stunts, and elaborate musical numbers that equals any summer blockbuster film. Some such as Sam’s subway fight with a fellow ghost and two of the characters' descent into hell are well-executed. Then there are also unnecessary musical numbers such as “You Gotta Let Go,” which is sung by a ghost that Sam meets in the hospital with an ensemble that is truly tacky.
I also couldn’t get my brain to digest the odd sight of dancing Wall Street workers and long dead ghosts to Ashley Wallen’s mostly underwhelming choreography. I kept asking myself, “Does a show that revolves around one man’s transition into the afterlife really need this many dance numbers?”
Images are seen on a screen in front of the actors and in the background. It takes a little time to get used to, but it can be visually stunning especially when it comes to the parts where the characters are outside in the streets of New York City or in the show’s best number, Oda Mae’s “I’m Outta Here.”
The screen can also be intrusive on the actors. “Unchained Melody” is once again used as Molly and Sam’s song, but this time Sam serenades it to Molly which is a nice touch. Then once they head to the bedroom, images of them making love are displayed on the screen. I understand that the purpose is to recreate Swayze and Moore’s famous love scene, but when you have leads like Fleeshman and Levy, who look good together and have obvious chemistry, they could bring that same level of intimacy and tenderness to the stage themselves.
At least, Warchus remembered how important the required tear-inducing moments were which was evident by the amount of sniffles that I heard throughout the theater during the show’s crucial final moments
Fleeshman and Pinkham both sing well and are physically right for their roles, but they never fully pull-off their respective roles as hero and villain. Fleeshman doesn’t bring the same warmth that Swayze did in the original role. He’s likeable, but didn’t inspire a high rooting factor from me or the audience. Pinkham lacks the cunningness and sleaziness that made you hate the original Carl, Tony Goldwyn. I sensed at times that Pinkham was uncomfortable playing the show’s villain.
It’s the ladies who run away with this show. Levy is just as wonderful here as she was as Sheila in the 2009 Tony winning revival of Hair with her emotional versatility and powerhouse vocals. Randolph makes her Broadway debut in Goldberg’s Oscar winning role. She’s more over the top in her portrayal then Goldberg was, but Randolph’s booming voice and excellent comedic timing makes her a likely candidate for Best Supporting Actress in a Musical at this year’s Tonys.
Ballard and Stewart bring their background in Pop/Rock music to their musical debut. Stewart’s synthesized sound from his days as part of the Eurythmics is evident especially in the up-tempo songs. Ballard’s '80s power ballad past is heard in the slower songs such as “With You,” which is tenderly sung by Levy and captures spot on Molly’s grief. The rest of the songs unfortunately aren’t as memorable and are average at best.
Ghost the Musical, despite its flaws, will please those who have worn out their video cassettes and DVD of the original film. It didn’t cause me to go through a box of Kleenex again, but still managed to tug at my heartstrings at times.
Ghost the Musical is now playing at the Lunt-Fontanne Theater, 205 W. 46th Street, New York, N.Y.