The Ghost and Mrs. Muir
Also see Sharon's review of Sherlock's Last Case
Which is to say that, yes, The Ghost & Mrs. Muir is a “chick” play. It’s all there - the intelligent and spunky heroine who has been dealt an unfair hand in life, but greets the challenge with pluck and a cheery song (the widow, Lucy Muir); the straight-laced community that looks down on her behavior and ostracizes her (a turn-of-the-century English seaside town); and the dark and mysterious man who understands her like nobody else and sings about his own loneliness with a warm baritone voice (the ghost of Captain Daniel Gregg, who lives in the cottage Lucy rents). And, of course, it has the proverbial love that can never be.
The risk inherent in a musical like Ghost & Mrs. Muir is that it’s all been done before. Whether it’s the man growling for the interfering woman to get out of his house (which is reminiscent of Beauty and the Beast); the man standing just behind the woman and singing over her right shoulder while just barely not touching her (Phantom of the Opera); or even the woman singing a happy tune to comfort frightened children who have run into her bedroom (Sound of Music) - nearly every scene and character looks like yet another version of an archetype we’ve seen in another musical.
There’s nothing wrong with the familiar; but the question posed by The Ghost and Mrs. Muir is does it walks its well-worn path with enough talent, style, and originality to be worth an audience’s money? It is definitely worth the roughly $30 charged now, but it needs work if it has $100-per-seat Broadway aspirations.
If James Barbour wasn’t actually born to play Captain Gregg, he’s certainly been in training for the role, which seems to combine the Beast’s temper with Edward Rochester’s dark magnetism. The only time his Captain Gregg doesn’t quite connect is when the Captain bursts into a self-aggrandizing song in the second act - although it is difficult to tell whether the problem is a lack of commitment to the song on Barbour’s part or simply that the song doesn’t fit the restrained character of Captain Gregg, who until this point has been content to act as puppetmaster for others’ revelries. Lynne Wintersteller provides a no-nonsense Lucy and gives her character a bright, hopeful voice which contrasts with the gravelly, world-weary voice she uses in flash-forwards which frame the show’s main action. Lucy arrives on the scene with two young children, and Wintersteller gives her a personality that immediately marks her as a good mother - she’s loving and playful with the children, but is also a gentle teacher. It works well when she’s telling her kids there’s no such thing as ghosts, but Wintersteller uses the same pedagogical singing style when Lucy is telling a psychiatrist about her deepest desires, when perhaps a more passionate outpouring is called for.
The show’s score, by Scott DeTurk and Bill Francoeur, has a few standouts. While its ballads are generally unmemorable, it has several plot- and character-driven songs with lively melodies and smart lyrics. In particular, DeTurk and Francoeur seem to have an endless supply of seafaring metaphors. When the men sing the rousing, “She’s a Damn Fine Wench,” you can be sure there’s a double-meaning to the phrase “grab the booty.” The show’s book, by Mellon, is full of intelligent and funny lines. Mellon especially outdoes himself in his smart-mouth lines for servant/confidante Martha, and Brooks Almy makes the most of them. But, while the book works nicely on a scene-by-scene basis, it needs some work in terms of overall story arcs. It can come as no surprise that Captain Gregg and Lucy ultimately fall for each other, but the show doesn’t ever really show them falling in love. (Lucy falls in love with another man earlier in the show, and we similarly aren’t shown why she finds him attractive.) More than that, though, the show establishes early on that Captain Gregg can read others’ minds. Surely, the moment when Captain Gregg discovers Lucy is developing feelings for him (whether requited or not) is something that could be musicalized in a song unique to this show, but that moment is not even staged here.
The show appears to take a sharp turn in the second act when Captain Gregg recounts some of his high seas adventures, and the entire company reenacts his memories. It’s an unexpected sequence of pure playfulness in the middle of this otherwise dark romance, and its giddy charm ends up making it the most memorable part of the show. Well, that and the fact that the ending made me cry. I guess the old formula still works.
The Ghost & Mrs. Muir continues at the NoHo Arts Center through July 24, 2005. For reservations, call (818) 508-7101, ext. 5.
Open at the Top and Joel Murray present The Ghost & Mrs. Muir. Scenic Design Craig Siebels; Lighting Design Steven Young; Costume Design Shon LeBlanc; Sound Design William Hutson and Scott DeTurk; Musical Direction Sean Paxton; Orchestration Ken Fix; Production Stage Manager Chris Warren Murry; Press Representative Kim Garfield; Associate Producer Susan J. Blyth; Casting Cindi Rush Casting; Make-Up and Hair Design Paul Hadobas. Book by James J. Mellon (based on R.A. Dick’s “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir”); Music and Lyrics by Scott DeTurk and Bill Francoeur. Director and Choreographer James J. Mellon.
Photo by Chris Murry