The new Broadway musical "Ghost the Musical," modeled on the hit 1990 movie about a young banker who is murdered but whose spirit sticks around to keep his girlfriend from harm, is an astounding marriage of live theater and high-tech.
The musical opened last summer in London and on Monday night on Broadway, where it packs a wallop for its blend of recorded and special effects with real action — in this case full-wall projections by Jon Driscoll that double or triple the cast with silhouettes that move, or filmed subways inhabited by real actors, or filmed backdrops that depict a frantic New York.
The projections and other effects, from designer Rob Howell and lighting artist Hugh Vanstone, complement the live performances so fittingly that art is able to imitate life while life imitates art at the same time. Then comes the supernatural: Real actors begin to go through real doors or disappear onstage or pop from the corpses of their newly murdered characters — feats designed by the illusionist Paul Kieve, the man who taught Daniel Radcliffe how to do magic on film.
The book for the new musical is written by Bruce Joel Rubin, who'd also created the screenplay for the movie — Demi Moore and the late Patrick Swayze were the lovers and Whoopi Goldberg, the put-upon phony medium who actually hears the ghost of Swayze's character. For the lyrics, Rubin teamed with powerhouse hit-song writers Dave Stewart and Glen Ballard, the latter two composing the music. That music starts off really well — evocative and foreshadowing — and then becomes repetitious by the second act, slowing down the momentum of "Ghost."
Luckily, the show recovers, delivered by four talented leads who include Philadelphian Da'Vine Joy Randolph in the part of the con-artist spiritualist. Randolph, a Temple University grad who received her bachelor's degree in classical vocal performance and went on to a drama master's from Yale, is giving the juicy role a great ride, belting it out when called for, playing it for all the extremes it's worth and generally sizzling.
But she's not the only forceful voice. The two young lovers of "Ghost the Musical" are the radiant Caissie Levy and hunky Richard Fleeshman, who originated the roles in London's West End.Levy, with her lovely voice that is dramatic and large in a high register, was Sheila in the recent revival of "Hair." Fleeshman, whose smooth, powerful singing voice rolls nicely off you, played Craig Harris in TV's "Coronation Street." Together — when Fleeshman is playing his character alive at first, then dead — they are delicious on stage, with a chemistry heavily composed of hormones. Their buddy, also sure-voiced and a strong presence, is played by Bryce Pinkham.
"Ghost the Musical" is a satisfying show but an eerie experience. It's one thing to see a romance film about the supernatural; someone goes into the ether and the effects are not only expected, but mandatory. The Broadway show — however much it depends on special effects and high tech — is with live actors in a musical about a dead man and those he left behind, a bizarre notion on the face of it.
Plus, real people are sucked up into these special effects. The way a couple of them go to hell is particularly eye-catching. The way they jerk to Bobby Aitken's otherworldly sound design can be unsettling. Fleeshman is beautifully lit in a strange sky-blue as a ghost, while everyone else appears in normal lighting effects. It is strange and a little grotesque to be a part of this world love, treachery and real actors in a highly effective, fictionalized spirituality. In that case, I'll say, it's theater that really works.
Contact Howard Shapiro at 215-854-5727 firstname.lastname@example.org, or #philastage on Twitter. Read his recent work at go.philly.com/howardshapiro. Hear his reviews at the Classical Network, www.wwfm.org.
"Ghost the Musical" is at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, on 46th Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues, New York.