It’s impossible to review Ghost without treating it like a pretty girl who wears way too much makeup. I almost feel the need to apologize to Jesus Christ Superstar, which I formerly thought was the most obnoxiously loud production on Broadway. Not only does Ghost have what should be an illegal decibel level, it also features flashing lights, nauseating optical tricks, and strobe. Gimmick after gimmick is layered on top of what should be a delicate love story. I get it, they’re trying to out-Disney Disney. Hey, should we throw in a moving sidewalk? Sure! Remember, bigger, louder, and trickier is always better. Guys, if I’d wanted a music video, I’d watch one. As for this rock concert I witnessed against my will, in the words of the show’s protagonist, ditto.
The story is, of course, familiar from the 1990 movie of the same name. The plot is the same old basic boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back by dying and inhabiting the body of a large black woman who is suddenly psychic. The usual. Incidentally, a word to all you single women out there. If a grown man, with whom you are cohabiting, is unable to say “I love you,” run like hell.
Which brings me to another disappointing aspect of this show. It’s really dark, and at times, seems satanic. There are nightmare inducing scenes of the dead being drawn into hell. (My own personal nightmare has to do with imagining what all this cost). Sam (Richard Fleeshman) is taught by a malevolent subway ghost (Tyler McGee) that the only way he can perform telekinesis to help his girlfriend is by focusing on fear, hatred, and anger. Clustered costumed ghosts from the past are bizarrely creepy.
But even worse is the blatant stereotyping on stage. In order to help Molly (Caissie Levy), Sam employs the help of a phony medium, Oda Mae (Da’vine Joy Randolph), who is shocked to discover she can suddenly hear an actual dead person. Randolph ably performs her jokes and her songs, but isn’t it about time to forego the Big Black Mama who belts out production numbers? Sure, the audience eats it up; but while it’s nice to see African Americans represented on stage, haven’t we come too far to be depending on Mammy to give us laughs? Add to this the fact that the thug (Michael Balderrama) who murders Sam is obviously Hispanic, while the crime boss on the phone has an Italian name, and we’re one step away from a Hasidic ghost holding his head and moaning “Oy, oy, oy,” and a Native American intoning “Ugh. We dead, Kimosabe.”
Of course, New York is the Big Bad City where everyone wants more, more, more. Sam’s former friend, Carl (Bryce Pinkham), who unwittingly has Sam killed, pops pills and drinks from a flask. And naturally, he’s an evil banker. The clichés are as abundant as the seizure inducing special effects.
The actors do a good job with the material at hand. Caissie Levy is a mix of Sarah Jessica Parker/Alicia Silverstone/Sarah Michelle Geller/ Nicole Richie. She has a lovely voice, and I would have much preferred she sing more ballads, and fewer clenched-fist rock numbers.
Richard Fleeshman, though a bit anodyne, makes Sam sympathetic, even when patience is stretched to the breaking point, and I wanted to yell “They can’t hear you!!!” when he keeps trying to speak with the living. He’s attractive, and has a good, strong voice.
Bryce Pinkham grew on me. He’s got a quirky quality, reminiscent of Jude Law in his character roles. I believed him when he said he only wanted Sam’s wallet stolen, and ten million dollars in drug money. Who wouldn’t?
Da’vine Joy Randolph, while dressed, wigged, and made up to look like a guy in drag, gives it her all when it comes to presenting her loud, flashy dialogue and songs. She is definitely an audience favorite. I appreciated her quieter moments during the performance. I look forward to seeing all four of the major players in better venues.
Quite a few patrons left during the intermission, and I wanted to cry out, “take me with you!” It was torture to have to return to my seat for the second act, but at least by then I’d located my trusty earplugs. Even so, I found myself unable to hear properly for several minutes after the final bows.
In this crowded theater season, with so much opening at once, do I think this show will survive? Quite honestly, I don’t think it has a ghost of a chance.
205 West 46th Street
Michall Jeffers is an accomplished Cultural Journalist. She writes extensively, both in print and online. Her eponymous cable TV show is syndicated throughout the tri-state area, and features celebrity interviews, reviews, and commentary. She is a voting member of Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle, American Theatre Critics Association, and International Association of Theatre Critics.