In one respect, and only in that one, Ghost: The Musical (Lunt-Fontanne Theatre), Broadway’s attempt to reanimate the popular 1990 movie, sets a precedent: It’s the first Broadway musical, so far as I know, to list none of its performers on the title page of its playbill. That’s dishearteningly appropriate, since this Ghost is about as far from live theater as a three-dimensional performance with narrative content can get. The cast works very hard, and at least two of its members display distinguishable personalities, but human individuality doesn’t stand a ghost of a chance with this event that ostensibly tells a story of human life and love.
I won’t reiterate that story here, since everyone knows it. Factitious and kitschy though the film may be, like nearly all of Hollywood’s transactions with the afterlife since the days of Topper and Mrs. Muir, it obviously succeeds in conveying some human emotion, or it wouldn’t still be on so many people’s list of faves. But since the theater can’t pull “supernatural” stunts with cinematic ease, director Matthew Warchus has elected to make, instead of a show, a newer, noisier, glitzier movie through which three-dimensional beings intermittently lurch.
The evening starts and ends with the show’s title projected on the house curtain, maybe because Warchus feared the exiting audience would already have forgotten what they saw. The evening between the titles is mainly a blitz of pointless video projections, with an occasional spotlit live person dashing frantically this way or that, pausing periodically to whine out a phrase of one of the show’s instantly forgettable songs, by writers whose names I won’t bother looking up, since you’re unlikely to hear from them again anyway. Poor suckers, they couldn’t leave out Alex North’s “Unchained Melody,” the film’s key musical prop; it relates to this score like Goliath stepping on an ant.
The show’s PR heavily emphasizes the ghostly illusions, techno-updates of hokey Victorian gadgets like the vanishing cabinet and the “vamp trap.” Ironically, the multimedia assault so floods the stage that it’s hard to notice the difference between live bodies and holograms, much less care which are which. Da’Vine Joy Randolph, as the ghostly hero’s reluctant medium, provides a distinctly solid presence, and Michael Balderrama, as the unintentional killer, nearly creates a character from his few scraps of dialogue. Otherwise, this evening-long wisp of ectoplasm lacks both body and spirit. Maybe a transfusion of ectoplasma would help.