Time goes by so slowly, and time can do—well, not so much, really, when you're left scratching your head and checking your watch through one odd choice after another in this remarkably unimaginative adaptation of the 1990 Patrick Swayze–Demi Moore vehicle about love that lasts till afterlife. Unfortunately, Ghost the Musical flatlines long before its lead character does.
The most wrong-headed of the stage version's structural miscues is the decision to remind you at every opportunity that you originally fell in love with banker Sam Wheat (here played by Steven Grant Douglas) and artist Molly Jenson (Katie Postotnik) on the big screen. Director Matthew Warchus and book writer Bruce Joel Rubin—adapting his own Oscar-winning screenplay—apparently thought the best way to evoke moviehood was by flooding the stage with constant, flashy video projections on LED screens, scrims and every other available surface.
The show's overture is accompanied by an animated, Spider-Man style swoop through city skyscrapers that actually ends in a title card; one half expects credits superimposed over the opening scene of Sam, Molly and traitorous friend Carl (Robby Haltiwanger) checking out the Brooklyn loft space destined to become Pottery Wheel Sensual—er, Central. And every time the show's ensemble of dancers is trotted out for an awkward crowd scene, their lackluster choreography is weirdly mirrored by colorful video-silhouette dancers in swirling cityscapes, a recurring effect that reminds one equally of early iPod ad campaigns and Bill Cosby's Picture Pages.
And yes, about that iconic pot-throwing scene, it's in there, as is the Righteous Brothers' "Unchained Melody," which is deployed at regular intervals as if to snap us back to attention. At one point shortly after Sam discovers he's dead (helpfully explained to him by jovial, vaudeville-esque fellow ghosts who seem like lost ancestors from The Addams Family), he even sings a snippet of the tune as though it's channeling his existential rage, while a dozen iterations of his screaming visage are projected behind him—Unchained Ghostface?
"Melody" will be the only one you remember; the new tunes by pop songwriters Dave Stewart and Glen Ballard fail to take hold, and you'll be eager to forget the mostly witless lyrics. Carla R. Stewart, in the Whoopi Goldberg role of a storefront psychic who helps Ghost Sam rescue Molly, starts slow but builds a good head of steam in the second act, and Douglas works hard to inject the thing with some much-needed life, no pun intended. But crucially, he fails to find chemistry with the mostly wooden, wan-voiced Postotnik, who pouts and professes grief but never seems to feel it.
The whole spectral spectacle, with its cheap-looking aesthetic but expensive tickets, with more motion on screens than by actors onstage, is likely to make you wonder why you didn't just stay home with Demi on DVD. One might worry whether it puts us another step closer to the act of theatergoing becoming a haunting memory.