Ghost The Musical Is Bigger on Spectacle Than Charm

The set-up:

The 1990 film Ghost, starring Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore and Whoopi Goldberg, earned more than $500 million, the highest grossing picture of the year, and won Oscars for Best Original Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor for Goldberg. It was made into a musical in England in 2011, with a successful run, and opened on Broadway in 2012, with less success. A U.S. touring production, non-Equity, began in 2013 and now hits Houston.

The execution:

The production mirrors closely the movie, attempting to translate it faithfully to the stage, but seems to have made a stopover in Las Vegas on the way, adding glitz and flashing lights and a relentless drumbeat of excess, determined to entertain us. And it succeeds, to some extent, but I couldn't help but wish that some of its adrenalin had permitted charm, rather than frenzy.

Check out our interview with Steven Grant Douglas who plays Sam Wheat.

What we have here is a screenplay - sorry, I meant "book" - which is based on a failure to communicate. The protagonist, Sam Wheat (Steven Grant Douglas) dies early, so can't be heard or seen by his lover Molly Jenson (Katie Postotnik), or by his Wall Street co-worker Carl Bruner (Robby Haltiwanger). The African-American psychic Oda Mae Brown (Carla R. Stewart), can't see him, but can hear him. This naturally results in a lot of shouting, about as useful as raising one's voice to someone who doesn't speak English.

We don't really get to know Sam before he is killed in what seems at first to be a random robbery, so our sense of loss is shortchanged, though we do learn he has trouble saying the three words of commitment: "I love you". Douglas is slender and handsome and is delightful in serenading Molly on a guitar. He is bathed in a blue-white follow-light as a ghost. Postotnik is beautiful and generates warmth and likability, and can belt a song. Haltiwanger is also slender and handsome, and plays the most interesting character of the three, the only one who is multi-dimensional, though his back story is referenced rather than elaborated.

The central character really is the set, a constantly changing panorama of flashing lights and projected images - of New York, of Brooklyn, of a subway train, or of the dancers on stage. The projections scream for attention, and get it. I gave in, and came to savor its determination to impress us. I couldn't make myself like, however, the character of Oda Mae, the fake psychic who finds out she has real gifts. Stewart brings huge energy and talent to the role, but it is written and performed as a caricature, and the costumes so deliberately overdone that the effect is bizarre and ridiculous, rather than amusing and entertaining.

The plot will not be given away here, but it is a detective story of white-collar crime, wrapped in a love story, with a side trip to the underworld. It has a long scene that is tedious as Oda Mae withdraws millions from someone's bank account, with no ID needed, but if that bothers you, you may not even believe in ghosts. There is a scene, intriguing in itself, where Carl hits on the bereaved Molly, but its usefulness continues to puzzle me. There are scenes on moving subway cars that are spectacular and gripping, and achieve all that seems to have been intended. The subway platform scene with the song "Focus" creates suspense and sparkles, and the staging of "Rain/Hold On" that opens Act Two merged emotion with stagecraft. But the ending, meant to be heart-warming, is so predictable that I remained unmoved.

Fernando Contreras as the thug Willie Lopez is excellent, as is Brandon Curry as a subway ghost, and the physical actions of both are elaborate and interesting. The touted special effects were effective but not especially magical - I did like the souls rising from dead bodies. The remarkable lighting design is by Hugh Vanstone, recreated by Joel Shier, and the ubiquitous video projections are by Jon Driscoll, and the very flexible set design is by Paul Weimer, and they are to be commended. The choreography, by Ashley Wallen, is busy, but does match the driving pace of a theatrical juggernaut. The director Matthew Warchus delivers on spectacle but not charm, and must share some responsibility for the costumes, by Daryl Stone.

There is a live orchestra. The book and some lyrics are by Bruce Joel Rubin, and the music and some lyrics are by Dave Stewart and Glen Ballard. The music and lyrics are undistinguished, and you will not find yourself humming any potential standards.

The verdict:

A staged version of a hugely successful film seeks to capture the film's charm, but instead entertains us with spectacle and drive, using talented performers and filmed projections to deliver a fast-paced story of love and murder. Ghost The Musical continues through February 23, from Gexa Energy Broadway at the Hobby Center, 800 Bagby. For information or ticketing, call 713-315-2525 or contact www.houston.broadway.com.

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