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Ghost The Musical (04/23/2012 - 08/18/2012)


 

AP: "Broadway musical of 'Ghost' is inventively fun with eye-poppingly brilliant effects"

The musical based on the film “Ghost” that just opened on Broadway is said to have originated in London. But it seems to have come from somewhere else: the future.

It starts like a movie with a sweeping tracking shot of Manhattan skyscrapers projected onto a scrim. It has slow-mo fights in subway cars that look like a video game and the back wall explodes throughout the show with dancing digital figures and words. There are even magic tricks. It’s the slickest, most visually appealing musical since the one about a spider dude.

But “Ghost The Musical,” which opened Monday at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, might be a bit too in love with its gee-whiz toys. In a theater full of critics during one recent preview, it pulled a “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” of its own — it had to stop the show midway through Act 2 for about 20 minutes when a prop crashed.

The song being performed at the time? Alas, “Nothing Stops Another Day.”

Though producers say such a delay is unprecedented, it was almost welcome to see such a hiccup, so overproduced and complicated is this work. That’s not necessarily a knock on an inventive show, just nice to see a ghost in the machine.

It’s all led by talented director Matthew Warchus (who may have saved up his special effects hunger from helming the minimal “God of Carnage”) and has a new and pretty score by Dave Stewart (half of the Eurythmics) and Glen Ballard (producer of Alanis Morissette’s “Jagged Little Pill.”)

It is Ballard and Stewart’s first musical stage score, but it doesn’t sound it at all. The songs keep the story moving and reveal character motives and mix up styles nicely. Some of the songs are so glorious — “Here Right Now” and “Suspend My Disbelief/I Had a Life” — they may win you over by the time the pottery wheel comes out in Act 2.

They’ve also smartly dealt with “Unchained Melody,” The Righteous Brothers’ recording that was at the core of the film. The composers have rightly embraced it, but in clever snatches: A Spanish version plays in one scene, there’s a jokey acoustic version played by one of the characters in another, and a few bars of the original are later heard on a radio.

The book by Bruce Joel Rubin stays close to the 1990 film and for good reason: Rubin wrote the film’s screenplay, too. In the monster movie hit, Patrick Swayze played a ghost trying to communicate with his girlfriend — played by Demi Moore — through a fake psychic — played by Whoopi Goldberg — in hopes of saving her from his murderer. (The musical marks the second show currently on Broadway with a part originated by Goldberg, which begs the question: When will “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” get here?)

In the new musical, Richard Fleeshman and Caissie Levy make convincing young lovers Sam and Molly, though the muscular Fleeshman should be told that screaming his lines as a ghost is, um, overkill. Maybe he’s angry because a blue light is always shining in his face now that’s he’s dead. Levy is thoroughly convincing as a heartbroken woman and her “With Me” is achingly lovely.

Bryce Pinkham plays the villain with panache, a ball of nerves and desperation. But newcomer Da'vine Joy Randolph as the psychic Oda Mae Brown is a sassy hoot and the audience misses her when she's not on stage. Her song "I'm Outta Here" is a bring-down-the-roof romp.

Choreography by Ashley Wallen emphasizes jerky moves with sudden stops in mid-stride to echo our nonstop, frazzled modern lives. There's plenty of use of the stage's mechanical walkways; huge sets slide in and out and fire escapes fly up and down. There's also plenty of smoke. Unfortunately, though, some of the creative team has clearly watched "City of Angels" way too much.

Jon Driscoll has gone into overdrive with projections – there's great snow and rain, crystal-clear cityscapes and stock tickers, and he's also paired real dancers with digital ones that resemble those figures who slink around in the opening sequence of James Bond films.

It all comes together – computers, dancers, projections and illusions by Paul Kieve – thrillingly in two subway scenes between Sam and a subterranean ghost, who later turns out to be an angry deranged rapper in the mold of Eminem. Those sequences are eye-poppingly brilliant.

There are also smartly imagined moments whenever new ghosts are made that include mannequins, misdirection and lots of bright lights like fireflies. The way bad guys get sucked into hell right after they're killed seems awful and scary, but the visual trickery is astonishing. Sam and Molly's final dance – thanks to Oda Mae – is nicely done and a low-tech welcome after all the neon and hydraulics.

Sam's final, drawn-out goodbye ignited clapping for its visual beauty – going to heaven looks really, really cool even if the dialogue ("See ya" and "Bye") is somewhat lacking.

But there are some clear missteps, notably the character of the hospital ghost who greets the dead Sam right after his murder. The ghost, which has been reworked since London, still isn't right, an odd combination of vaudeville and soul that doesn't fit this shocking moment.

Overall, it's an ambitious, carefully orchestrated work that raises the bar on technological innovation. In London, "Ghost The Musical" has become a hit. How will a Broadway audience likely respond? Ditto.


AP
04/23/2012

New York Daily News: "Ghost the Musical"

During “Ghost the Musical” last Thursday, one of the enormous sliding LED panels used to create scenic and special effects slipped off its track and crashed, leading to a 20-minute delay.

Broadway accidents happen. In this case it was like the star of the musical based on the Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze big-screen weepy blockbuster had lost her voice and broken her foot at the same time.

That’s because gee-whiz illusions (a specter seemingly walks through a door, for instance), lavish light displays and supersized projections are the main attractions of this English import. Without eye-popping tricks, the show offers zip in the way of wonder. Too bad, since the romance had potential to sing.

Reprising roles from London, Caissie Levy and Richard Fleeshman play Molly, an artist, and her beloved Sam, a broker who’s killed. He tries to make contact with Molly through a sham psychic Oda Mae (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) with a mile-long rap sheet. It’s the role that won Whoopi Goldberg an Oscar.

The cast makes little impression and the material doesn’t help. Bruce Joel Rubin’s book, based on his Oscar-winning 1990 screenplay, clunks along. The love story gets swamped by numerous scenes and robotic dance numbers about New York’s frantic fast-paced corporate jungle. Some moments seem to exist simply for visuals — Hey, let’s use umbrellas!

Pop-rock songs by Glen Ballard (he co-wrote Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror”), Dave Stewart (of the Eurythmics) and Rubin are literal-minded and repetitious and fill up space but never fuel the imagination. On the plus side, the classic hit “Unchained Melody” is retained from the film.

Directing “God of Carnage” and “The Norman Conquests” in New York, Matthew Warchus proved himself an ace at comedy. This musical suffers from a jerky tone and by putting a premium on high-tech over heart.

Think back on the movie and the effect that was most special wasn’t computer-generated. It was Demi Moore’s lone silver tear. It’s a crying shame “Ghost” gets it so wrong.


New York Daily News
04/23/2012

New York Post: "B'way 'Ghost' busted"

Something peculiar is happening in “Ghost the Musical.” It’s nothing to do with the plot, which involves a dead man looking after his (living) girlfriend, and a sham psychic with a 4G connection to the afterlife — this is, after all, an adaptation of the 1990 film, a supernatural romance starring Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore, Whoopi Goldberg and a pottery wheel.

No, the oddity here is that, although penned by ex-Eurythmics member Dave Stewart and writer-producer Glen Ballard (Alanis Morissette’s “Jagged Little Pill”), the turgid score doesn’t boast a single decent hook.

The one tune you’ll come out humming is “Unchained Melody,” the standard that also played a big part in the movie. Not only is the song a tried-and-true classic, but in this London import, we hear it, or snippets of it, at least four times.

But then, “Ghost the Musical” likes to hit you over the head.

This distended, hyperactive tornado of a Broadway extravaganza picks up characters, objects and plot lines and flings them about willy-nilly, leaving the audience dazed and confused.

The “flinging about” is meant literally, by the way, because gravity means little in the great beyond, where banker Sam Wheat (Richard Fleeshman) finds himself.

After being murdered in an apparent robbery, our hero realizes that he can now go through doors — a nifty special effect — and even pick up objects — more nifty special effects.

This comes in handy when Sam has to protect his grieving girlfriend, artist Molly Jensen (Caissie Levy), from his devious former colleague, Carl Bruner (Bryce Pinkham).

You wonder why Sam bothers, because we sure don’t care — none of these characters registers, even when their faces appear in huge black-and-white projections, like Calvin Klein commercials.

“Everything about us is right,” sings Molly, who clearly didn’t notice that 1) she and Sam have zero chemistry and 2) her latest sculpture looks like a giant chocolate cruller.

Sam’s able to contact her via clairvoyant con woman Oda Mae Brown (Da’vine Joy Randolph), who doubles as comic relief. It’s a fun part, but also sadly typical of how Broadway relegates black women to sassy one-liners and rousing, gospel-inflected numbers.

Director Matthew Warchus (“Boeing-Boeing,” “God of Carnage”) is a master at comedy, but here he looks overwhelmed by the excess of moving parts. The result feels agitated rather than dynamic, with choreography (by Ashley Wallen) that resembles semi-incoherent flash mobs.

Typical of the overall cluelessness is “More,” a number about the glory of working on Wall Street. Like the rest of this show, its timing couldn’t be worse.


New York Post
04/23/2012

New York Times: "In a Broadway Afterlife, Time Goes by So Slowly"

Generally speaking, I don’t believe in ghosts. But I’m convinced that the spirits of Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne have taken up temporary residence in the wings of the Broadway theater that bears their names, where the new musical adapted from the popular movie “Ghost” opened on Monday night.

Toward the close of Thursday night’s performance of this thrill-free singing theme-park ride, the sound of grinding metal echoed through the Lunt-Fontanne Theater. The complicated machinery of the moving sets stopped moving, and the curtain was brought down for almost a half-hour while a technical glitch was solved.

Surely the ghosts of the foremost acting couple of the Broadway theater in the 20th century had been roused from their posthumous slumbers to make a little mischief, aghast at the dreary digital spectacle taking place on the boards they once nobly trod.

“Ghost,” with a book and lyrics by Bruce Joel Rubin, who (unbelievably) won an Oscar for the movie’s screenplay; and music and lyrics by Dave Stewart (of the fab 1980s synth-pop duo the Eurythmics — say it ain’t so!) and Glen Ballard, may not be the very worst musical ever made from a movie. I might give that palm to either “Dirty Dancing” or “Fame,” neither of which has yet made it to Broadway. (Thank the theater gods for small blessings.) But it is just as flavorless and lacking in dramatic vitality as many that have come before.

Directed by the gifted Matthew Warchus, presumably in search of the big money that only big musicals can provide, the show relies mostly on elaborate video imagery, modestly ingenious special effects and the familiarity of its ectoplasmic romance to entertain. There is also, of course, the comic relief provided by the brash, sassy Da’Vine Joy Randolph in the role of the brash, sassy psychic played in the movie by Whoopi Goldberg, who also (unbelievably) won an Oscar for her performance.

Recreating the roles they originated in the London production that opened last year, Richard Fleeshman and Caissie Levy play the gilded young couple portrayed by Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore in the 1990 movie. Molly is a sculptor who wants to hear those three little words; Sam is a banker who has trouble spitting them out. A brutal twist of fate separates them when Sam is killed, apparently in a mugging.

But while Sam has shuffled off this mortal coil, he has not departed the earth entirely. His spirit remains in limbo, able to move about the world but saddled with the usual ghostly handicap of invisibility. He is also inaudible to all but the psychic Oda Mae Brown (Ms. Randolph), whom he enlists to act as his proxy in a battle to protect his love from the nefarious plottings of his erstwhile best friend, Carl (Bryce Pinkham), and the thug (Michael Balderrama) he’s in cahoots with.

Well, you probably know the story, anyway. It is embroidered in the musical by a series of innocuous, forgettable pop songs, mostly love ballads in which Sam and Molly exchange endearments while they are both alive, and yearn for each other when death splits them apart.

The lyrics are rudimentary: “How can it be/It must be true/This thing I feel/I know it’s you,” Molly sings when she is convinced that Sam’s spirit is still hovering around. The melodies are pleasant but just as bland.

The musical highlights, at least in terms of audience-rousing energy, belong to Ms. Randolph’s Oda Mae, who is given the boilerplate Generic Gospel Number in Act I, as she and two assistants raise the roof to scam a potential client. She also gets a splashy disco anthem in Act II, when she finds herself briefly in possession of a $10 million check and cavorts atop a stack of Louis Vuitton-ish luggage, as cartoon images of luxury living dance across the video wallpaper of the set.

That video wallpaper plays a major role in the production, with Sam and Molly’s love scene blown up to Times Square billboard scale, and images of busy New Yorkers caroming around the streets amplifying the formless gyrations of Ashley Wallen’s choreography. Nifty special effects by Paul Kieve are used to show how Sam learns (from a rapping ghost he meets in the subway, in the show’s one truly risible number) to break through the life-death barrier and make objects move.

These high-tech flourishes lend the show the feel of one of those sensory-bath, movie-inspired rides at the Universal Studios and Disney theme parks. But the thrill is fairly minimal, since the seats in the Lunt-Fontanne can’t make like a roller coaster and jolt us around, addling our brains to the point of forgetting the plodding apparatus of the story.

As the cranky Oda Mae, half-disgusted to discover that she actually possesses the psychic powers she has been faking, Ms. Randolph provides some real pleasure with her tart delivery of a few laugh lines lifted straight from the movie. Ms. Levy has a strong, appealing pop voice, as does Mr. Fleeshman, who also looks quite fetching in the blue spotlight that follows him around to signal his otherworldliness.

But you quickly grow weary of Sam’s obtuseness about the rules of the post-mortem game. Long after a friendly fellow ghost (Lance Roberts) has laid down the law about the separation between the living and the dead, Sam can’t seem to get it into his head that people can’t hear him. He keeps angrily chasing around the stage, shouting things like, “Molly, get out!” and “Molly, don’t listen to him!” Clearly death does not do much to improve I.Q. We can only hope there are no SATs in heaven.


New York Times
04/23/2012

Newsday: "'Ghost' needs more emotion, not illusions"

The ads for "Ghost: The Musical" proclaim "You've never felt anything like this . . . You've never seen anything like this." The point, well taken, is that this song-and-dance adaptation of the hit 1990 movie attempts to push Broadway technology beyond mere cinematic rip-off to something akin to music videos at the IMAX.

Never mind, presumably, that the songs, the story and the acting are paint-by-numbers primers that add nothing to the movie that starred Demi Moore, Patrick Swayze, Whoopi Goldberg and a pottery wheel spinning to the unhinged innuendo of "Unchained Melody."

The main event here is the feeling/seeing of all the neat nonstop special effects (except when a mysterious technical glitch caused a dead stop for almost a half-hour at a recent preview). Spirits rise from corpses, ghosts learn to put their hands through walls, move objects, kick butt and, in the case of dearly departed Sam (Richard Fleeshman), struggle to convince his brokenhearted Molly (Caissie Levy) that her life is in danger.

Little wonder that, despite the musical's mixed reviews in London, producers rushed to show Broadway all their soaring LED flights through New York skylines and compare all those fiber-optic doodads with the ones over at spider-guy.

Director Matthew Warchus, who already wowed the Tonys with his mastery of physical farce ("Boeing, Boeing," "The Norman Conquests"), seems to have become intrigued by the possibilities of machinery. This is impressive, but to what end?

Bruce Joel Rubin, who won an Oscar for his "Ghost" screenplay, does a tracing-paper job transferring the plot to the stage. The music and lyrics by Dave Stewart (the Eurythmics) and Glenn Ballard are bland and derivative -- rap for the scary subway ghost and gospel for the East Harlem fortune teller (Da'Vine Joy Randolph in a game attempt to find freshness in Broadway's increasingly desperate cliche of the large black screamer).

But worry not. Bits of "Unchained Melody" by the Righteous Brothers are scattered through the evening like raisins, reassuring us that the now-iconic pottery-wheel erotica will, some day soon, momentarily push an intimate emotion through the overpowering stage business.

The automaton choreography has people looking like zombies, even when they are not. Illusionist Paul Kieve makes amazing stage pictures, but, so far anyway, they can't compare to human theater magic.


Newsday
04/23/2012

USA Today: "Sentimentality, effects lift 'Ghost: The Musical'"

A mischievous spirit swooped down on Broadway last Thursday night, during a preview of Ghost: The Musical (* * out of four).

During the second act, a strange noise was heard, and the stage manager announced that the performance would be halted temporarily to resolve a technical problem. (The show's representatives had no official comment on what the issue was.)

A few audience members had left by the time the show resumed, about 25 minutes later, but most seemed happy to wait — a little titillated, even. Maybe it was the prospect of behind-the-scenes drama — shades of Spider Man: Turn Off the Dark! — or the eerie appropriateness of such a glitch, given the subject matter.

Ghost is, after all, an adaptation of the hit 1990 movie about a virtuous banker who, after being murdered by a thief hired by an unscrupulous colleague, finds supernatural means of communicating with his surviving girlfriend and wreaking havoc on those who pose a danger to her.

The musical, which opened Monday at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, not only retains that plot — original screenwriter Bruce Joel Rubin wrote the book, which includes just minor changes in structure and detail — but seems determined to recapture, or even outdo, both the pathos and the flashy hocus-pocus of the film version.

The sensory assault starts in the first scene. Video walls make it seem as if we're hurtling through New York City in a low-flying aircraft. Minutes later, Sam, the banker, and Molly, the girlfriend — nicely played by Richard Fleeshman and Caissie Levy, reprising their roles in the hit London production — sing and dance amid clouds of billowing smoke. We see video footage of the cute couple canoodling blissfully.

The really ambitious shenanigans kick in after Sam dies, as he watches other ghosts stage a production number and leaps through subway cars and learns how to make stuff move around. As in the movie, he enlists a sassy psychic named Oda Mae; only here, played by a crowd-pleasing Da'Vine Joy Randolph, she also belts out cheesy gospel-and-R&B-flavored fare.

The score, by pop veterans Dave Stewart and Glen Ballard, veers from such tunes to hard arena-rock candy, throwing in a few touchy-feely ballads for the grieving Molly. But the lyrics, co-written by Rubin and the composers, are more likely to make you laugh than cry. During the aforementioned production number, a ghost croons to Sam, "There's a tag on your toe now/You're cold now/You died."

If you haven't seen Ghost on screen, there's a bittersweet ending. For the musical's producers, the future looks brighter: A third production is set to open in Melbourne next year. Apparently, sentimentality and special effects are draws — even if the latter can play tricks on you occasionally.


USA Today
04/23/2012

Variety: "Ghost the Musical"

Full of moving scenery, lights, projections, film and magical illusions, but devoid of actual magic, the Broadway production of "Ghost" is a lumbering megatuner with little to offer beyond a limitless array of dazzling effects. But while it's tempting to suggest the show hasn't a ghost of a chance, that assessment might not be warranted: The still-running London production successfully parried a dire critical reception last July, and audience response to the visuals and that familiar title might well attract enough Rialto customers to make a go of it.

Librettist/co-lyricist Bruce Joel Rubin hews closely to his Oscar-winning 1990 screenplay, about a murdered banker (played here by Richard Fleeshman) who drafts a reluctant clairvoyant (Da'Vine Joy Randolph) to protect his fiancee (Caissie Levy) from his double-dealing best friend (Bryce Pinkham). Rubin gives us two very funny scenes -- ghost and clairvoyant with the girl in the first act, and with a banker in the second -- which seem more or less lifted from the movie.

Otherwise, the book is flat, as is the score by Dave Stewart (of the Eurythmics) and multiple Grammy winner Glen Ballard. Best song in the show is clearly "Unchained Melody," the 1955 standard by Hy Zaret and Alex North which was featured in the screen version and is prominently showcased here. The hero also has a tendency to sing "10,000 Bottles of Beer on the Wall," which has a marginally stronger chorus than much of what the three credited lyricists have collectively wrought. (The score seems to have acquired one replacement since the London opening, a functional song for a stageful of ghosts called "You Gotta Let Go.")

Brit Matthew Warchus is at the helm, with a first-rate bag of tricks at his disposal, and has guided set/costume designer Rob Howell, video/projection designer Jon Driscoll and illusioneer Paul Kieve through an evening of visual delights.

But other than respectable performances from the leads, that's about it for the plus column. Fleeshman is likable as the title character. Levy charms throughout, and gets to sing the production's one believable number, "With You." Randolph gives a crowd-pleasing turn, especially in her big 11 o'clock number, "I'm Outta Here," though the song is as dramatically questionable as it is entertaining.

Choreography by Ashley Wallen is of the kinetic, herky-jerky variety, and multiplying the 16 dancers with projected silhouettes only magnifies the weaknesses of the staging. The set crashed and crunched at the first official press preview, resulting in a 24-minute break in the action. This seems to have been a onetime occurrence, and no injuries were reported. But "Ghost" sure ain't a show you want to see without the effects fully operational.


Variety
04/23/2012

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