— At one moment in
Those who remember the 1990 source movie, which starred the late Patrick Swayze and
Our fervent if fantastical wish that our lives, and the lives of those we love, don't end with death has informed musicals since the form was invented. It is the heartbeat of "Carousel," one of the greatest musicals of all. So that moment in "Ghost" — not so different, really, from the instant Julie Jordan senses Billy Bigelow standing before her — should put a lump in your throat. And for a second, it does (it's why the movie made plenty of people cry). But in this instance, it's quickly replaced by resentment that a show has co-opted and manipulated such an exquisitely raw and potent device, a vulnerable place for any audience where no show should casually tread, and used it so carelessly, tossing away the human vulnerability for a slew of harsh, digitized illusions.
There is so much wrong with "Ghost," it's hard to know where to start. Bruce Joel Rubin's book does not allow us to see the lovable side of Sam before he dies, therefore we're insufficiently invested in his return; the score by Dave Stewart and Glen Ballard (with Rubin) has mundane, repetitive music and simplistic lyrics; the two leads, imported with the show from the U.K., lack gravitas, maturity, sensuality and accessible emotions. The dramaturgical holes gape wide: The nature and rules of Sam's apparent limbo (purgatory?) are never consistently applied. One minute he's flying, the next he's walking off into the sunset, sans purpose. I was never sure whether this was New York of 22 years ago or the high-tech Gotham of today.
But most significantly, this is a show done in by its visuals, mostly the work of Rob Howell and Jon Driscoll, who create such a frigid, hard-edged, nontemporal and thoroughly inhuman palette for all the digital scenery that the world is just too chilly to accommodate what should, fundamentally, be a warmhearted romance. And why the director,
"Ghost" is a head-scratcher in all the wrong ways. The crowd-pleaser, to the extent that anything pleases here, is Da'Vine Joy Randolph, playing the Goldberg-fueled psychic. Randolph has a big voice, a strong personality and a funny bag of tricks. But like the rest of this enterprise, they feel cold, inorganic and connected to little or nothing.
"Ghost" plays on Broadway at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, 205 W. 46th St.; 877-250-2929 or ghostonbroadway.com.