REVIEW WRITTEN BY DANTE J.J. BEVILACQUA
For Digital First Media
Like so many other adaptations, “Ghost: The Musical” struggles to live up to its namesake. The show at the Media Theatre features none of the whiz bang special effects we might expect but does provide a dazzling video wall that will wow you.
The stage version simply lacks the heart of the movie that starred Patrick Swayze at the height of his career, Demi Moore donning a cute pixie haircut and tearing up on demand, and Whoopie Goldberg, who won an Oscar for her role. “Ghost The Musical” is anything but quiet or intimate, but remains true to the story.
If your bold enough to make such a terrific romantic film into a musical, you should get someone to compose a stage worthy score. Unfortunately, the Dave Stewart and Bruce Rubin’s work is filled with bland tunes and mechanical dances. This London pop musical based on the Academy Award-winning 1990 film received a cool reception on Broadway where it folded in 17 weeks.
Film buffs will recall that “Ghost” is Blithe Spirit, Topper, It’s a Wonderful Life, A Christmas Carol, and Carousel all rolled up in one as its reliable formula delivers patented goods: A visitor from beyond the grave intervenes in the lives of mortals to comic, dramatic and benevolent effect.
The stage version closely follows the film centering on Sam and Molly a perfect pair of upwardly-mobile romantics. She’s a sculptor and he’s a banker. Life is bliss, save for Sam’s inability to say “I love you,” which bums Molly out.
Then Sam is killed in what first appears to be a robbery gone wrong. But Sam’s ghost learns that his death was not as simple as it seemed as his widow is comforted by a dubious friend Carl.
But while Sam has shuffled off this mortal coil, he has not departed Earth entirely. His spirit remains in limbo, able to move about the world but saddled with the usual ghostly handicap of invisibility.
He is also inaudible to all but the psychic Oda Mae Brown, whom he enlists to act as his proxy in a battle to protect his love from the nefarious plottings of his erstwhile best friend, Carl and the thug he’s in cahoots with.
The stage version gets swamped by numerous scenes and robotic dance numbers about New York’s frantic fast-paced corporate jungle. Some moments seem to exist simply for visuals.
The production design is smart, if at times self-consciously “cinematic,” the rabid video backdrop accommodates itself to illusions like Sam soaring through space or a subway melee between him and another phantom. The other tricks and slights that happen throughout making the freshly dead appear quickly as ghosts while the corpse lies on the ground, or morphing into space are not visually fascinating but the focus of the production remains squarely on the actors.
The biggest challenge to the Media Theatre is constructing a sound system that works. It is utterly distracting when a performer stands over the audience, at the edge of the stage and their singing cannot be clearly understood.
As the cranky Oda Mae, half-disgusted to discover that she actually possesses the psychic powers she has been faking, Tamara Anderson steals the show in the same way Goldberg dominated the film, with her intoxicating charm, infectious humor, and fabulous voice, it is hard not to love Oda Mae.
Sam and Molly are played by a pair of attractive young performers. Zack Krajnyak, a handsome young man, sings well enough and manages to keep his moorings as he impersonates a ghost trying to break into the real world.
Anna Giordano does most of the musical heavy lifting, tossing off one high intensity number after another with her beautiful voice. Sean Thompson does some impressive acting and singing as the villainous Carl, who destroys his best friend and then hits on Molly. Special notice goes to JP Dunphy as the electrifying subway phantom.
The songs are not memorable and book is not captivating, but the actors shine brightly.
This is not a great musical and I’m left wondering if it will hold much appeal to anyone who doesn’t already love the movie enough to enjoy a colorful but innocuous facsimile.
IF YOU GO
Ghost: The Musical continues at the Media Theatre, 104 East state Street in Media through March 29. Tickets: $25 – $42 Information: 610.891.0100 or www.mediatheatre.org