This season especially, every new Broadway musical seems to be based on a movie. Producers count on a familiar title (and a loyal fan base) to fill seats. Never mind that there’s often no good reason for beloved onscreen characters to burst into song. Consider Ghost, the Oscar-winning 1990 film that made the pottery wheel an aphrodisiac. Sure, you can have banker Sam (chiseled Richard Fleeshman) serenade aspiring artist Molly (strong-voiced Caissie Levy) with an acoustic-guitar version of ”Unchained Melody.” But to play out the entire story in song? That’s a big leap, even for a hero who’s crossed over to the other side.
Bruce Joel Rubin, who adapted his own Oscar-winning screenplay, remains almost slavishly faithful to the film’s story — making some of its occasional infelicities all the more glaring. Does the hired thug who kills Sam have to be the show’s lone Puerto Rican character (Michael Balderrama, in a dictionary-definition thankless role)? Who has rightful claim to the $10 million that Sam is trying to keep from his banker buddy Carl (a nicely squirrelly Bryce Pinkham)? These are mysteries this production can’t hope to resolve.
There’s no question, though, that Da’Vine Joy Randolph is having a blast as the psychic Oda Mae Brown, the role that won an Oscar for Whoopi Goldberg. Under Matthew Warchus’ less-than-understated direction, Randolph takes a sassier, sitcommy approach to the role, milking her two big gospel and R&B-flavored numbers for all they’re worth. Unlike ”Unchained Melody,” though, the show’s new songs — by the Eurythmics’ Dave Stewart and veteran hitmaker Glen Ballard — are bland and forgettable mush. Some, like Molly’s first-act ballad ”With You,” feel like a few promising melody lines have been tossed onto that potter’s wheel to spin round and round without building to a climax. Ashley Wallen’s choreography is similarly lackluster, listless calisthenics for the chorus to perform during scene changes.
Ah, but those scene changes! The chief draws of Warchus’ production are the high-tech set (by designer Rob Howell), the cinematic video projections (designed by Jon Driscoll), the striking lighting (designed by Hugh Vanstone), and illusionist Paul Kieve’s onstage magic effects that let Sam move objects and walk through walls. Like Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark, the musical version of Ghost haunts the eye, not the ear. C
(Tickets: Ticketmaster.com or 877-250-2929)