Staging made critics' spirits rise

Ghost: The Musical

(Picadilly Theater, London)

The Verdict looks at critical reaction to key productions opening Off Broadway, regionally and abroad that appear likely candidates for further life on Broadway or elsewhere.

With a big-name title derived from the Oscar winning 1990 pic, a score by former Eurythmic Dave Stewart and staging by Tony-winning helmer Matthew Warchus (“God of Carnage”), the West End preem of “Ghost: The Musical” has plenty of elements to attract attention.

With a book by Oscar-winning screenwriter Bruce Joel Rubin, the show stars Richard Fleeshman and Caissie Levy as a separated-by-death couple, singing tunes by Stewart and Glen Ballard. Paul Kieve designs the much-ballyhooed spectral illusions.

It’s only natural Stateside commercial producers should keep an eye on “Ghost” as a possibility for Broadway or beyond. But while London reviews for “Ghost,” which opened Tuesday, largely praised the production’s visual dazzle, they proved less enthusiastic about the music and the romance.

n In his three-star review in the Guardian, Michael Billington found much to like in the show’s design, staging and illusions — and not a lot else. “This is a musical in which the eyes emphatically have it,” he wrote, opining that the central couple’s “passion is upstaged by the projections” and calling the songs “strangely forgettable.” Like most critics, he gave a big thumbs-up to Sharon D. Clarke in the wacky-psychic role that won Whoopi Goldberg an Oscar. Clarke, he noted, “provides the show with what it mostly lacks: heart and soul.”

n The Independent’s Paul Taylor also liked the tuner’s visual elements better than anything else in the “much-hyped show,” with illusions that “thrill” and staging that is “seamlessly inventive.” In his three-star review, he frowned on “the banality of the lyrics” and the “sub-rock sameyness of the music,” and found little compelling in the two leads (although he also reserved praise for Clarke). Despite the “spectacular visual dynamism,” he wrote, the staging “can’t fully compensate for the shallowness in other departments.”

n Among the more favorable of notices was Charles Spencer’s four-star review in the Telegraph, where he wrote that the show “strikes me as superior to the 1990 movie.” He too loved the staging, and although he acknowledged the story “is a touch corny, and often gloopily sentimental,” he nonetheless found “something genuinely distinctive” about the tale despite the “bland power ballads” of the score. “This may not be a great musical,” he finished, “but it is a highly entertaining one.”

n One of the more downbeat reviews was Quentin Letts in the Daily Mail, where he wrote that the tuner is “not so much musical theater as blaring pop concert, with hi-tech graphics and some odd choreography.” Still, he was surprised to find that the show gained some emotional heft in the second act, and ultimately deemed it worth attending, “provided that a) you take some cotton wool (to plug your ears) and b) you are not expecting anything too subtle or classical.”

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