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Stage Door: Ghost, The Columnist

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There is a difference between an apparition and the real thing -- and the same can be said of a Broadway show. It can be rendered cinematically, as in Ghost, The Musical, thereby becoming a musical that thinks it's a movie. The production, based on the 1990 film, dispenses with theatricality or stagecraft, though the magical effects are nifty.

Yet a banal score and headache-inducing graphics don't seem to bother the crowds, who clearly came for a recap of the Demi Moore-Patrick Swayze hit. Sam Wheat (Richard Fleeshman), a Wall Street banker with hot artist girlfriend Molly (Caissie Levy), is living the good life in a trendy Brooklyn loft. They are deeply in love; though Sam can't verbalize "I love you," believing his actions speak for themselves.

And they will. The two are mugged outside a restaurant, and Sam is killed. Distraught, Molly returns to their loft, where Sam's friend and colleague Carl (Bryce Pinkham), who does a nice turn as a slimy Wall Street broker, is unduly attentive. The twist: Sam isn't really gone; he's a ghost. And he has to warn Molly that she's in danger. To do so, he enlists the help of psychic Oda Mae (Da'Vine Joy Randolph).

Ghost, at the Lunt-Fontanne, has a seductive premise: the need to reconnect with a deceased loved one. Everyone wants a chance to say goodbye -- and to have the power of their love affirmed. Levy has a strong stage presence and a lovely voice; she was a standout in the revival of Hair and clearly has the chops to carry a show. Fleeshman's Sam is solid, as is Randolph, a belter with comic flare. When Sam finally crosses over, let's hope he meets Rodgers and Hart. They can show him what true urbanity is all about.

The Columnist at the Samuel J. Friedman, is equally unsettling, but for different reasons. David Auburn's play is based on the powerful real-life columnist Joseph Alsop, a well-connected pundit known for opinionated political reporting. In his heyday, his "Matter of Fact" column appeared in nearly 200 papers and his influence spanned from the 1940s to the '70s.

"We tell them what they need to know," Joseph Alsop (played to WASP perfection by John Lithgow) arrogantly declares. Acerbic, churlish and occasionally charming, Alsop wields considerable power. He is treated like print royalty and enjoys the friendship of JFK, who he fervently admired.

Alsop is anti-Soviet, anti-Communist and a major supporter of the Vietnam War. When younger Vietnam-based reporters, such as New York Times correspondent David Halberstam (Stephen Kunker) criticize it, he goes ballistic.

More telling, given his national standing, Alsop was a closeted homosexual. In 1957, the KGB photographed his liaison with another man in a Moscow hotel room -- then threatened to blackmail him if he didn't become pro-Soviet. Instead, Alsop marched over to the U.S. Embassy and confessed all. The KGB sent the photographs to Alsop's journalistic colleagues and American officials. And at a time when such revelations could ruin a reputation, everyone stayed silent.

That's an incredible story -- and great material for a dramatist. Unfortunately, there is no drama here. No worries about exposure, nothing to threaten Alsop's ego, save for the occasional sparring with brother Stewart (Boyd Gains), a journalist in his own right, and his wife Susan (Margaret Colin), a socialite who brings a young stepdaughter (Grace Gummer) to their marriage.

The Columnist reveals the flawed thinking of Vietnam supporters and the Establishment's denigration of anything youthful and new. But despite a strong cast and pristine set design, it strangely lacks punch. The more intriguing tale, how Alsop managed, given such sexual dynamite, to retain his prized post, is never told.