This British West End import based on the Parmount Pictures film of the same name comes to Broadway with no viable stars in any one of the three starring roles in the hopes that based on the title alone, Ghost, with its hit movie status, will be a hit. The stage show has book and lyrics by Bruce Joel Rubin and music and more lyrics by Dave Stewart and Glen Ballard. The book works, though the bad guys are really bad, and the calculated moments that are supposed to move you actually achieve that goal. The music, however, is a wash of general pop ballad noise that competes with the singers so that the lyrics are very hard to catch. From what could be heard clearly, the lyrics tended to be simplistic pop song ideas with good hooks that were repeated enough times to get the idea across if one couldn’t hear them the first time (take “Here Right Now” as a prime example). The book does an awful lot of work at keeping this musical coherent.
The cast is amiable and talented and the big three are Richard Fleesham as Sam (the ghost), Caissie Levy as Molly, and Da’ Vine Joy Randolph as the psychic Oda Mae Brown. All three are excellent at their jobs, though I still wish I could have understood what they were singing. Ms. Randolph comes off the best with two pointless numbers (One, “Are You a Believer?” is a stereotypical revival number.), but she’s got back up singers, back up male dances and a lot of glitz surrounding her, so the audience goes wild. Still, cut her two numbers and the show would move along just fine without them, though it would be less fun.
The real star is the tech. Dominating it all is the projection design by Jon Driscoll on a rather mechanized set by Rob Howell and Paul Kieve’s really fantastic illusions. Effects of “Sam” walking through walls, appearing to be see-through, objects floating by themselves, becoming invisible, one actor morphing into another actor, are all great fun and a few times quite astounding. In previews the scenery has broken down a few times, giving the audience an extra fifteen minute intermission before continuing on. It’s all a bit over done, but when it works, the design is almost worth the price of admission because it somehow all looks like something you haven’t seen before and that is the single aspect of this spectacle that just might keep it going for a while––at least until someone can talk Zac Efron into taking over the part of Sam when Mr. Fleesham moves on. All top three roles are ripe for bankable stars and future casting could easily keep this show going much longer than it deserves to, for we like those three characters very much.
Director Matthew Warchus manages to keep juggling all the elements that make this small story such a big undertaking and the pace moves right along. On the other hand Ashley Wallen has contributed a lot of pointless choreography. If there is an office or a city street scene, you can bet the pedestrians are jazzing it up while the leads walk in place on the conveyor belt. Behind them the projections are going crazy. They are fine when they actually depict a setting, but then add to that flying across New York, shadowy versions of the chorus dancing in time with the live people, and a big screen montage of the leading couple having sex (don’t get too excited––it’s tasteful) and a line has been crossed. All of it is too much and some day I would like to find out what this show really is when it is produced as a quiet little production, but that is for another day. Today this big messy multimedia extravaganza is following in Spiderman’s footsteps and so, you never know, it might just run for years.