It’s not a bad idea to modernize and musicalize Oscar Wilde’s story of the Canterville Ghost, but “iGhost” isn’t quite ready to be haunting. The team of Doug Haverty and Adryan Russ (“Inside Out”) pulls a Phantom of the Opera plot out of the classic satire without even beginning to fix its story problems. They would also be wise to reconsider a score largely consisting of mood songs failing to advance the action, exacerbated by Jules Aaron’s stillborn helming.
Like Wilde, librettist Laverty is interested in the interaction between modern American pluck and English aristocratic tradition, but he jettisons the Babbity Yankee family taking over a haunted castle. Instead, art student Virginia (Rebecca Johnson) arrives for an internship and isn’t at all disturbed by the presence, or even existence of the ghostly Sir Simon (Peter Welkin), doomed to endless torment after the curse of his late wife Lucinda (Dorrie Braun).
Plucky Virginia endeavors to end the curse, and ends up landing a beau in the form of the castle’s current, timid executor Trevor (Zachary Ford).
The details of these parallel romances are in need of clarification, and the storytelling is misshapen to boot. Much is made of Sir Simon’s opposition to Trevor’s public fund raising activities, and a full (long) song explains the ghost’s idea for a contest for the bravest visitor. Yet both tours and contest are quickly dropped and forgotten. Helmer Aaron doesn’t inspire the large cast to much urgency in these subplots, or in the main story for that matter.
Most grievous is the dull air exuded by a charisma-free central spirit. We don’t exactly crave Charles Laughton’s corny flamboyance in the 1944 film, but must Welkin saunter in and out like an annoyed maitre d’? There’s no eroticism in his George Sanders-like boredom, and no humor either; he claims to be going mad when we’ve barely seen him reach “pique.”
By contrast, Johnson and Ford have chops and charm, clearly understanding the characters’ intensity. But since they’re the only principals playing it, ironically they (and the overeager ensemble) seem to be mugging and indicating shamelessly. Still, if a choice were to be made, you’d want the production to err on the side of dire need.
Russ’s melodies are pleasant on first hearing, and in the case of glittering love song “Every Shade of Blue” for Lucinda, better than that. But you can count on one hand the numbers which truly push the story forward. And while choreographer Allison Bibicoff knows how to stage elegant movement in a tight space, asking the chorus to indiscriminately switch from ghosts to servants and back again weakens their effectiveness as either.