Review: “Ghost the Musical” on Broadway

Published by Clay Cane on Friday, April 27, 2012 at 10:00 am.

(Photo: The Hartman Group via Getty Images)

Morphing hit films into musical theater is the latest rage on Broadway.  The most recent movie getting the Broadway remix is Ghost the Musical.  In case you don’t know, Ghost is the famous 1990 film staring the late Patrick Swayze as Sam, who is shot and killed but refuses to transition to the other-side in order to solve his murder.  His grief-stricken girlfriend, Molly, was played by Demi Moore.  The woman who connectz Molly and Sam, Oda Mae Brown, was portrayed by Whoopi Goldberg, a role which won her an Academy Award.

Ghost the Musical stays true to the original story even down to the film’s signature song, which was “Unchained Melody” by the Righteous Brothers.  Directed by Matthew Warchus with music and lyrics by Dave Stewart and Glen Ballard (who famously co-produced Michael Jackson’s Thriller and Bad albums), the original songs aren’t standard musical theater.  There is a rock, pop or soul element in each number.  Richard Fleeshman, who plays Sam, has a voice made for rock radio, Caissie Levy as Molly delivers the pop vocals with a mix of musical theater and Da’Vine Joy Randolph is stone-cold soul.  Their three voices as the leads help make Ghost the Musical stand out from standard musical theater.

That said, Ghost does have its bumps in the reincarnation on the Great White Way.  Molly and Sam’s connection isn’t as impactful as it was on film, which is no fault of the leads, who clearly give their best.  Unfortunately, the legendary film haunts Ghost the Musical, a tearjerker of a movie that is nearly impossible to equate in musical theater — inevitably, the two will be compared. 

Ghost in 1990 was known for its fascinating yet subtle special effects.  The musical relies on lofty light projections and video montages (projections by Jon Driscoll and design by Rob Howell) that at times feel like Matrix the Musical, which might be a good sign if the production is appealing to a younger audience.  Visually, the show is eye-popping and is never a bore, but the elaborate sets weren’t matched with an emotionally satisfying storyline.

But let’s be clear, similar to the movie: Da’Vine Joy Randolph as Oda Mae Brown steals the show.  She was the comic relief, the big notes and made the crowd jump to their feet at the curtain call.  Da’Vine Joy Randolph, a Philly soul girl, has a heavy task.  The brilliance of Whoopi Goldberg was so powerful that her dialogue is retained nearly verbatim.  Therefore, Randolph has to avoid the criticism that she is simply copying Whoopi.  Fearlessly, Randolph soars in the music, like the gospel-inspired “Are You a Believer?” and the disco-infused “I’m Outta Here,” allowing her to make Oda Mae Brown her own.  The crowd pleaser of the night?  “Molly… you in danger, girl!”  I am hoping Ghost the Musical will get a spin-off: Oda Mae Brown the Musical: Molly, You in Danger, Girl!

Ghost the Musical is currently playing at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre.

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