It’s an unhappy fact that most new Broadway musicals are based on films. Whether successful or not, the name recognition from the movies helps power the box office. Sometimes magic strikes and a quality musical gets created along the lines of The Producers. But in most cases adding song and dance to the plot doesn’t spell quality and you end up with a Carrie or a Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Ghost—The Musical was a bad idea from the start and the resultant production, currently on tour at Hollywood’s Pantages Theatre, is really a nightmare.
The one thing creators Bruce Joel Rubin (book and lyrics) and Dave Stewart & Glen Ballard (music and lyrics) got right was the character of con artist psychic Oda Mae Brown (played for all its worth by Carla R. Stewart). The role won Whoopi Goldberg her Oscar and garnered a Tony nomination for Da’Vine Jo Randolph. The show managed to eke out 175 performances, including previews, on Broadway. It probably merited this non-equity tour based on the film’s name recognition. But as the character Sam Wheat (an uncharismatic Steven Grant Douglas) prophetically says as one point, “Jesus, what the hell is all this?” This viewer totally agrees.
For starters, the score is so nondescript that “Unchained Melody,” the Righteous Brothers song used memorably in the film, is heard four times, including a snippet of the original on the radio. A rock score doesn’t really fit the heavily romantic and other worldly feel of the plot. The orchestra is so loud the lyrics can barely be heard most of the time. When they are heard, you were glad for all the times they weren’t. Ashley Wallen’s frenzied choreography for New Yorkers on the street, subway or in their offices comes out of nowhere and seems to exist to warrant having a chorus. Matthew Warchus’ direction is pedestrian. The writers can’t even keep their plot in focus. The most memorable scene in the film is the pottery making and make out session between Sam and Molly (a wan Katie Postotnik). Here it appears briefly in the second act after Sam is a ghost and Molly can’t feel him or even know he is with her.
Hugh Vanstone’s lighting design (recreated by Joel Shier) either blinds the audience or else keeps the action in the shadows so you can’t see how the illusions by Paul Kieve are achieved. At times the illusions are fun to watch but they aren’t consistent. At times we can see Sam walk through walls, move objects etc with the help of the special effects but there are a few times when only his voice is heard while the effects are happening. And what is it with the fog machine? There is ground fog when Sam & Molly move into their new apartment and later in Sam’s office. It’s not a ghostly effect because Sam is still alive at that point. Jon Driscoll’s video and projection design is very impressive for a stage show, but if you are going to watch a video you would be better off with the original film.
Pantages Theatre, 6233 Hollywood Blvd. in Hollywood. Ends July 13. 1-800-982-2787 or hollywoodpantages.com