Chicago Theatre Review
Unchained and Scary
Ghost: the Musical
Blinding, flashing lights, astonishing special effects, loud electronic music that often drowns out the singers, but very little substance…that’s what most audience members will take from this production. After being subjected to more than two hours of overkill, in-your-face theatrics, this beautiful love story that even defies death is all but lost in its stage adaptation. Audience members who loved the romantic 1990 fantasy-thriller film that starred Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore and Whoopi Goldberg will find the story vaguely familiar. However thanks to Bruce Joel Rubin’s bland script adaptation and the frenetic Dave Stewart/Glen Ballard pop score (in which the Righteous Brothers’ love theme from the movie, “Unchained Melody,” is the highlight), there’s not much improvement to the original. And why should there be? In an era of unoriginal, adapted-from-a-popular-movie Broadway musicals, “Ghost” is yet another example that begs the question, “Why did someone think this was a good idea?” Add to this a visual assault of projections and blinding lights and patrons unfamiliar with the movie will wonder what’s the big deal? Throw in a young, mostly inexperienced non-Equity cast of performers and you have a recipe for certain disappointment.
When this production opened in London in 2011 it received mixed reviews but played a respectable 500 performances, primarily owing to the film’s devoted fans. The 2012 Broadway production didn’t fare nearly as well made it understandable why only a non-union touring production followed.
Steven Grant Douglas and Katie Postotnik work hard to make Sam and Molly, the two leading characters, as strong and believable as possible. But they’re thwarted at every turn by musical accompaniment that often drowns out what they’re singing, dancers who upstage them while flailing around to Ashley Wallen’s puzzlingly spastic choreography and a battery of moving projected images playing over their scenes. In an attempt to rise above the level of frenzy found in this production, Ms. Postonik’s vocals are often strained and painful-sounding. Bobby Haltiwanger does a creditable job as the movie’s main villain, Carl; and Brandon Curry’s Subway Ghost provides one of the show’s best moments. The play’s much welcomed comic relief is provided by Carla R. Stewart as Oda Mae Brown, the African-American pseudo psychic who reluctantly becomes Sam’s spokesperson after he’s killed. But even Ms. Stewart’s welcome presence can only do so much for this musical; and, directed by Matthew Warchus to overplay her role to the point of caricature, the audience soon tires of her over-the-top portrayal.
The only reason to see this production, which certainly doesn’t warrant its high ticket prices, are the special effects. Characters levitate, fly offstage and even walk through doors; objects levitate and glide around the stage; rain falls and umbrellas descend from the sky. Even New York’s cityscape soars toward the audience at breakneck speed making you feel like you’re on a runaway Disney World ride. If your idea of good theatre is bigger, louder, faster you’ll enjoy yourself; for those looking for a musical with pleasant, hummable songs, beautiful choreography and interesting characters honestly telling a memorable story, you might want to look elsewhere. Or better still, just rent the movie.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented Jan. 8-19 by Broadway in Chicago at the Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph, Chicago.
Tickets are available at the box office, by calling Chicago Ticket Line at 800-775-2000 or by visiting
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found at www.theatreinchicago.com.