Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Review: 'Ghost The Musical' Enlivens the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre

 Caissie Levy (Molly) and Richard Fleeshman (Sam).
(production photos: Joan Marcus)
‘Ghost The Musical’ based on the popular 1990 film now haunts Broadway at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre in a stage musical adaption. Filled with visual delights at every opportunity, the show is a feast of modern stagecraft unlike anything audiences have ever seen on the New York stage.

Book writer and co-lyricist Bruce Joel Rubin retains key moments and elements from his Oscar-winning screenplay about murdered banker Sam Wheat and his artist lover Molly Jensen made famous by Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore on film and now realized on stage by the appealing Richard Fleeshman and Caissie Levy repeating their roles from the show’s London production. Da’Vine Joy Randolph embodies Whoopi Goldberg’s Oscar winning role as reluctant clairvoyant Oda Mae Brown who is drafted by Sam to protect Molly and help find his killer. Bryce Pinkham plays the couple’s good friend and Sam’s co-worker Carl Bruner.
(story continued below)

Caissie Levy and Richard Fleeshman.
Da'Vine Joy Randolph (Oda Mae)
If opening sequences foretells an exciting story to come, the overture and soaring images above New York City on the massive video screens that make up the stage walls set expectations high. The story is actually quite intimate and works best on stage when Molly, Sam and Oda Mae take the stage. The ensemble scenes should have been rethought. For example when ghosts begin converging at Oda Mae’s shop, they are all dressed in garments from various time periods feeling like remnants of the Lunt’s prior tenant ‘The Addams Family’ which also featured an ensemble of ghosts. In the songs “More” featuring a bevy of suited New Yorkers and “Rain” with the use of umbrellas the ensemble fills the huge stage but seems almost out of place when the story returns to the trio of main characters.

Da'Vine Joy Randolph and Caissie Levy (front)
and Richard Fleeshman.
Director Matthew Warchus also a disfavors for Levy’s Molly. Her scene when Sam is shot is hijacked from her. Instead of keeping the tone of the movie where the character is isolated with the dying Sam in her arms, Warchus adds dizzying sounds, lights and ensemble members that Levy is swallowed by these elements and her emotional moment lost.

What works are the engaging leads. Randolph, like Goldberg in the movie, steals every scene and the audience eats it up. In “I’m Outta Here” she stops the show. It’s a disco-infused number resembling a runway show in Paris. One of the better songs in the score and with Randolph such a commanding presence, the scene would still work without the ensemble of dancers. It’s highly doubtful that other actors could improve on the movie performances but on stage Levy and Fleeshman are believable as a couple in love, their contemporary vocals fit the pop-rock songs in the score and they make the tear-jerking ending a satisfying moment.

The song “Unchained Melody” is such an iconic part of the movie that it does make an appearance. Unfortunately it makes the original ballads written by Dave Stewart (of Eurythmics fame) and Glen Ballard, their first stage musical score, pale in comparison. Perhaps it’s the songs placement in the show as “Three Little Words” and “Life Turns on a Dime” are both pleasant tunes. The former captures the romance between Molly and Sam and the latter humanizes Bruner’s duplicitous Carl. One song that should have been cut in previews: “Focus”. As Sam is taught his ghostly powers to move objects, the quasi-rap tune can’t seem to end soon enough coming across as simply loud and unpleasant.
(story continued below)

Caissie Levy
Richard Fleeshman
The use of massive video walls that can fold and re-arrange themselves for various scenes gives fluid movement to the production and turns the backdrops into three-dimensional vistas. No doubt audience members will be dazzled by the additional use of magic. For example, Sam does walk through a wall in one pivotal scene. The combination of these production elements gives the whole show a modern and unique design esthetic.

Caissie Levy and Richard Fleeshman.
Despite the qualities of the production there appears to be a definite backlash against the show. It failed to gain a Tony nomination for best musical (the poorly received and closed ‘Leap of Faith’ getting a nom in that category) or for best score, the latter category filled with only two musicals and two plays that featured original songs. The backlash continued when the awards were handed out. Though Randolph deserved her nomination as featured actress, her competition was fierce in the category and her non-win expected. But if this show had a chance to win a Tony it would have been in the lighting design or set design category which was a feat of technological achievement for the stage. Instead Tony voters continued to bestow the intimate musical ‘Once’ with wins in these two categories for more traditional design work.

As much as I can say I would not mind to see 'Ghost The Musical' again for the actors, production elements and even some of the songs, the sat fact appears, as evidenced by the middling box-office grosses (and universally mixed-to-negative reviews), that all the stage magic this production possesses will disappear by the time summer relinquishes the season to fall.


Bryce Pinkham (center) and the ensemble.
Da'Vine Joy Randolph, Richard Fleeshman and Jeremy Davis (Lionel).
Richard Fleeshman and Caissie Levy
Caissie Levy, Richard Fleeshman and Bryce Pinkham.
Caissie Levy and Richard Fleeshman.
Caissie Levy, Bryce Pinkham and Richard Fleeshman
Bryce Pinkham and Caissie Levy
Caissie Levy and Richard Fleeshman
Michael Balderrama (Willie Lopez) 
Da'Vine Joy Randolph (left) and company.
Caissie Levy
Da'Vine Joy Randolph
Caissie Levy


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