BY MICHAEL SOMMERS
Better look out, “Spider-Man” -- here looms up “Ghost The Musical,” a wildly flashy new Broadway spectacle likely to haunt your claim for special effects awesomeness.
Some astonishing visual effects and striking production designs often make “Ghost The Musical” – aw, let’s just call it “Ghost” -- amazing to behold at the Lunt-Fontanne Theater, where this not-so-bad musical romance opened on Monday.
Of course, my eyes and ears practically were falling out of my old silvery head by the time this relentless music video of a show was through, but spectators more appreciative than I am of extreme barrages of visuals and sound might enjoy its blinding excesses.
You’ve seen the 1990 Patrick Swayze-Demi Moore-Whoopi Goldberg movie, right? It is a romantic fantasy about a murdered New Yorker who communicates with his grieving girlfriend through a dubious storefront psychic. That golden oldie, “Unchained Melody,” was its musical theme.
Expect to hear that evocative vintage song again here, several times, as well as plenty of new rock music by Dave Stewart and Glen Ballard, who furnish a swift and pulsating Eurythmics-style score for the trim script provided by Bruce Joel Rubin, the film’s screenwriter, who faithfully tracks his story.
Their effective musical storytelling positions songs in appropriate plot points and packs several gleaming tunes, notably a rhapsodic “Here Right Now” for the lovers, an expansive “Suspend My Disbelief/I Had A Life” anthem for the first act finale and a rambunctious “I’m Outta Here” production number for the balky medium winningly portrayed here with infectious big mama gusto by newcomer Da’Vine Joy Randolph.
If the overall impression of the score resembles a film or music video soundtrack more than a Broadway musical that is because Christopher Nightingale’s densely-layered arrangements and orchestrations are so metallic and overblown. Sci-fi effects and ghostly echoes filter through Bobby Aitken’s sound design, which blasts the sound from every direction in the auditorium.
Many of the songs are accompanied by a dazzling series of color-saturated videos and streetscapes designed by Jon Driscoll, who further dizzies the senses with intricate moving and still projections. Set designer Rob Howell and lighting designer Hugh Vanstone conspire to create a complex amalgamation of projection screens, scenic units and levitating banks of lighting instruments to fluently accommodate the action’s flow. Along with Paul Kieve’s remarkable illusions, the visual design represents impressive state-of-the-art stagecraft – the shifting perspectives of the subway scenes in particular are boggling – but such beyond-kaleidoscopic sensory immersion tends to overwhelm the musical itself.
Other than the larger-than-life personality exhibited as the bewildered psychic by Randolph, who always offers exuberant company, the other leading players intermittently wash out amid their spectacular circumstances.
A handsome Richard Fleeshman is manly and urgent as the ghostly hero, Caissie Levy lends a resounding voice to the woeful (and woefully dressed and coiffed) heroine’s plaintive songs and Bryce Pinkham is suitably intense as their duplicitous friend. Garbed as a punk rocker, Tyler McGee whirls through a vivid cameo as a hostile subway ghost. Sharply choreographed in sometimes robotic mass movement by Ashley Wallen, the ensemble fleetly executes its exhausting demands as dancers.
Director Matthew Warchus certainly has conceived a boldly-scaled vision for “Ghost” and coolly delivers it all up with energy, efficiency and consummate skill. The sentimental nature of the fantasy is eclipsed somewhat by the elaborate technological firepower on display but the aggressive results are likely to appeal to audiences who like their musicals big and booming.
“Ghost The Musical” continues at the Lunt-Fontanne Theater, 205 W. 46th St., New York. Call (877) 250-2929 or visit www.ghostonbroadway.com.