Regional Reviews: Cincinnati
If the songs, direction, and dances in Ghost: The Musical were as strong as its eye-popping and cutting edge special effects, it would be a hit. But, sadly, they aren't even close, as evidenced by the national tour currently playing the Aronoff Center in Cincinnati. Despite solid, worthwhile performances and the aforementioned visuals, the show is one of the weakest to come to town in a long time.
The musical very much follows the plot of the 1990 film by the same name. Sam is murdered in an alley, leaving his fiancée Molly grieving. But Sam somehow becomes caught between the real world and heaven. He quickly learns that Molly is in danger and seeks the help of a medium, Oda Mae Brown, to warn Molly and protect her from the men who murdered him.
The book for the stage adaptation is by original screenwriter Bruce Joel Rubin and closely resembles the storyline of the movie. However, the dialogue contains some real clunkers, and several scenes, such as those in the office and on the subway, are cheesy and busy. The emotional connection of the characters is still there, thankfully, and the heart of the show is in the right place, but it just isn't executed well in the writing.
The score is a huge let down. The music by Dave Stewart and Glen Ballard contains lots of pedestrian, romantic power ballads and feels generic and repetitious. The lyrics by the trio of Stewart, Ballard, and bookwriter Rubin aren't any better, with predictable rhymes and little wit on display. The best songs, other than "Unchained Melody," which is repeated from the film, are the opener "Here Right Now" (though it seems that it shouldn't be an opening song) and Oda Mae's rousing "I'm Outta Here."
Director Matthew Warchus and choreographer Ashley Wallen share as much blame as the writers in the creation of such a lackluster show. The dances are about as unappealing by Broadway standards as they come, with stiff, unattractive poses mixed with amateurish moves invading every ensemble number. The direction includes rough transitions and a lack of focus. There are wonderful uses of the projections and effects at times, but some scenes suffer from too much going on (either dances or effects) and distract from some of the show's more tender moments.
The video and projection designs that make up the vast majority of the scenic design are by Jon Driscoll. They are integrated well on the stage with the actors and other set pieces, though at times it's too much of a good thingmaking things too busy on stage and pulling focus from the performers. Still, it's amazing what can be done with this technology. Several "ghost" illusions go over well and are overseen by Paul Kieve. The lighting by Hugh Vanstone is first rate, and Matthew Smedal capably leads a small orchestra.
It's very difficult to critique the actors in this production, since they do not have strong material with which to work. Steven Grant Douglas (Sam) and Katie Postotnik (Molly) are solid singers and provide the emotional foundation of the characters sufficiently. Robby Haltiwanger likewise hits the required marks as Carl. As Oda Mae, Carla R. Stewart is a bit over-the-top but brings welcomed comedy relief to an otherwise serious show and is a crowd favorite. The rest of the cast has little to do character wise, but each one executes the odd dancing well.
It may be a good thing that the design elements of Ghost: The Musical overwhelm the story and songs since they surpass the book and score by so much in quality. However, it doesn't make for great theatergoing. Those who like the movie a lot may very well love this show, and those who want to see what the future of set design could become, for better or worse, may be intrigued as well. But, despite worthwhile performances, this show doesn't have a ghost of a chance to please most audience members.
Ghost continues at the Aronoff Center in Cincinnati through October 6, 2013. Tickets can be ordered by calling (800) 294-1816 or by visiting cincinnati.broadway.com/. For more information on the tour, please visit www.ghostontour.com.-- Scott Cain