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'Ghost' Review: New Musical Is Inventive Fun

By MARK KENNEDY 04/23/12 07:45 PM ET AP

Ghost Musical

NEW YORK — 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.

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Online: http://www.ghostonbroadway.com

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