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Theatre Review: Ghost

July 18, 2012

GhostMillions of people fondly remember the hit 1990 film Ghost, which starred Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore, Whoopi Goldberg, and Tony Goldwyn. Now, the classic story has been updated and adapted as a stage musical that captures all of the drama, emotion, and magic live on stage. I was fortunate to be able to see Ghost on Broadway, and it was definitely a night to remember.

The most novel and innovative aspect of Ghost is its use of special effects. Through a combination of artful lighting, clever staging, and optical illusions that rival those of even the most elaborate Vegas magic shows, the spirits appear to really have the ability to levitate, walk through walls, and completely disappear. Their entrances and exits evoke images of heavenly (and hellish) passages and their movements appear fluid and ethereal. This show is worth seeing merely for the optical illusions, but thankfully, it has a lot more going for it.

Ghost's score, by Dave Stewart, Glen Ballard, and Bruce Joel Rubin, can be summarized in one word: passion. From the early number "Here Right Now," which describes Sam and Molly's romantic optimism, the show's signature rock tone and rich harmonies set it on an emotional course. In Act 1, calmer numbers like "Three Little Words," where Sam and Molly discuss their future, and "With You," Molly's rumination on losing Sam, are offset by high-energy ensemble pieces like "More," about the fast-paced, consumerist nature of the city, and "Are You A Believer?," a gospel-themed introduction to the flashy, charismatic Oda Mae Brown. The Act 1 finale, "Suspend My Disbelief / I Had a Life" sets a hopeful note before intermission, and the Act 2 opener, "Rain / Hold On," ramps up the energy for the second part of the journey. In the second half of the show, "Focus," a hip-hop-inspired number pairs Sam with a troubled ghost on the Subway, who teaches him to control his supernatural powers. Oda Mae continues to strut her stuff and bring a bit of classic showbiz flash in "Talkin' 'Bout a Miracle" and "I'm Outta Here," and Molly belts out her 11 o'clock number, "Nothing Stops Another Day," a satisfyingly simple yet impressive ballad. And, of course, the signature song from the film, "Unchained Melody," makes a couple of appearances throughout the show.

If the book and score set the challenge for the show, the performers more than met it. Richard Fleeshman and Caissie Levy, who originated the lead roles of Sam and Molly in the West End production and transferred with the show to Broadway, are bona fide stars. Fleeshman plays Sam's disorienting transformation and dutiful journey with commitment and charm, and Levy captures Molly's grief, hope, and vulnerability with grace and an incredibly impressive vocal performance, showing her skill both in quiet moments and full out, high-belting glory. Bryce Pinkham's performance as the treacherous friend, Carl Bruner, is perfectly desperate, and Da'Vine Joy Randolph's (Tony-nominated) performance as Oda Mae is laugh-out-loud funny and endearing. The talent is rounded out by capable ensemble members, who bring a big-city context to the show's intensely personal story.

Overall, Ghost combines touching relationships, thrilling musical performances, and awe-inspiring special effects to craft a well-rounded show. It is a classically constructed musical with a fresh, rock sound and an innovative visual twist. To fans of the movie, or just fans of a spectacular show with a powerful emotional sensibility, see Ghost before it fades away...

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