leave your inhibitions at the door
We were in Manhattan last week for vacation, experiencing all kinds of things both bloggable and forgettable. It was the kids’ first visit to the Big Apple and, since we’ve caught the theater bug, a Broadway musical was a must. I’m far from what you would consider an expert – this was actually my first Broadway show. However, I’ve seen a bunch of traveling productions in Chicago (Rent, Wicked, Miss Saigon, etc.) and a bunch of local productions here. Plus I’m completely hooked on Smash. OK, maybe that last one ‘s a stretch in terms of credentials, but I really think I know what makes for a good show.
Ghost is currently in previews in NYC after a successful debut in London last year. The official opening is later this month and they’re using the time now to do some tweaks. It’s based on the 1990 romance/thriller/comedy movie that starred Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore, and Whoopi Goldberg. In case you’re one of the three people who hasn’t seen the movie – it follows Sam and Molly (Swayze and Moore), a young couple whose lives are torn apart when Sam is killed in an attempted robbery. Rather than go up to heaven, Sam stays behind as a ghost and follows around Molly as she tries to pick up the pieces. He finds out that his death wasn’t so accidental and that Molly is in danger as well, however he’s unable to communicate with or protect her. He ends up running into Oda Mae Brown (Whoopi Goldberg), a con artist/storefront psychic and both are surprised to find out that she can actually hear his voice. Sam “persuades” her to help Molly to safety and ultimately find resolution to his death. Some of the movie is downright sappy, but there are some great moments with the couple and Oda Mae. Goldberg and Bruce Joel Rubin (writer) both won Oscars for the movie.
The musical brought back Rubin for the book and teamed him up with a couple of ringers for the songs – Dave Stewart and Glen Ballard. Stewart was one-half of the very popular 80s group Eurythmics and has had later success as a songwriter and producer. Glen Ballard co-wrote and produced huge hits for Michael Jackson, Alanis Morrisette, Katy Perry, Dave Matthews, and about 100 other acts. With this kind of dream team success seems inevitable.
Not going to happen.
What Was Good
The set and special effects were really, really cool. The stage had three huge walls that used LED technology to project images and different light colors. They moved around, as a whole and in sections, to create settings and the lights helped to convey moods and a sense of history for the couple.
A big part of the movie was the special effects – Sam walking through doors, getting thrown off a subway, levitating things. The musical definitely delivers with these. You see spirits rising from dead bodies, things levitating, characters disappearing into thin air and walking through doors. Some of the things they did were absolutely amazing. Yet…
What Was Not Good
There were a few minor things that bothered me and it could have been that they are in the process of working those out. Some of the transitions between scenes were boring or just clunky. There were also quite a few scenes that featured the ensemble dancing around, dressed in business suits. Sam was indeed a banker and personal greed was the prime motivation in his death. However, I got the sense that the producers/director were trying to convey some kind of message ripping on the greed of corporate America. It just felt a little overdone.
A big problem I had with the whole thing was the approach that Ballard and Stewart took to writing the songs. In the program book, they mentioned striving to create songs that could stand alone, even outside of the context of the musical. I wonder if they were trying to get a pop song that could score on the charts but didn’t have you scratching your head if you didn’t see the musical. I think this was a huge mistake. What we ended up getting was a collection of songs that didn’t seem cohesive to each other and to the story. Maybe they still told the story lyrically, but the music didn’t convey much emotion and all just seemed disjointed – which may have been why the transitions were clunky.
This “collection of songs” strategy may have even worked if the songs were actually…well, good. There weren’t any songs that had a catchy hook or soaring chorus that moved me. Every other musical I’ve seen has had at least one or two monster songs that elevated the rest. These were songs that stuck with you the first time you heard them. Rent had “Seasons of Love” and “I’ll Cover You”. Wicked had “Defying Gravity” and “Popular”. Miss Saigon had “Last Night of the World”. You get my point. None of the songs in Ghost were in the least bit memorable.
Then there was the pottery scene. This was the part of the movie where the two lovers’ hands are entwined while molding clay on a potters’ wheel that leads to a steamy lovemaking session, all while “Unchained Melody” plays in the background. This was the single-most memorable scene in the movie. Heck with that, I don’t think it’s exaggeration to say it’s one of the most iconic movie scenes in the past 40 years. Some may say it’s really cheesy, but that’s only when looking back at it after time. Think about the first time you saw that scene – it was breathtaking.
The musical does have the potters’ wheel and the song, but they are used in different ways – either because they thought it was cheesy or they didn’t want it to outshine the rest of the musical. The song was relegated to a joke between the two lovers, but it was still there in a few scenes. So it’s not like they were trying to avoid paying royalties to the Righteous Brothers. The clay was also there and provided an emotional center, but it still seemed like an afterthought. In the movie, it really made you feel the passion between the Sam and Molly. They were so different in their daily lives – she was an artist, he was a yuppie – but the scene showed their bond. For me it made me care about Sam because, let’s face it, Swayze wasn’t a great actor and he looked pretty douchey in his red poofy shirt.
Overall, the musical was a great spectacle, but the songs were flat and it generally lacked heart. The leads did an admirable job – especially Cassie Levy as Molly and Da’vine Joy Randolph as Oda Mae. I really do want it to succeed, only because I can only imagine the hard work and passion that went into putting this on stage. But when the special effects were the most memorable part of the musical, it doesn’t bode well.
Has anyone out there seen it?
demi moore hot