Once upon a time in New York, Hollywood and Broadway got together over a few drinks.
Overtures were made. More drinks were poured. One thing led to another.
And a few years later, out popped “Ghost the Musical,” an ill-conceived piece of theater stuck in a public identity crisis over which of its profit-mongering parents to emulate.
A touring version of the show, looking like nothing so much as a middle school art project cobbled together from YouTube clips and choreographed by Miley Cyrus, is on the stage of Shea’s Performing Arts Center.
It was as spectacular a theatrical failure as any show that has come through town in the past decade, a truly remarkable demonstration of creativity by committee and a damning statement on the cynical motives of today’s Broadway producers.
The show opens with a long film sequence of the sort you would expect from your nearest Regal Cinema, only created with a 1993 version of PaintShop Pro. For an insufferably long time, audiences are treated to a CGI fly-over of Manhattan accompanied by a deafening soundtrack meant to emulate the IMAX experience.
By the time the show gets around to introducing its actors, it’s clear that they are meant to be secondary to the experience – little pieces of content cursed to wander the show’s pseudo-cinematic hellscape and occasionally squeak out a few notes.
The show follows the happily absurd plot of “Ghost,” the 1990 film on which it is based. It features Sam and Molly (Steven Grant Douglas and Katie Postotnik), a millionaire banker with the personality of a cardboard box and his artist girlfriend, who are fixing up a dirt-cheap Brooklyn loft.
The lives of these thoroughly unlikable people, who seem to have wandered on stage from an episode of “House Hunters International,” are thrown into disarray when Sam is killed. He then returns to haunt his already tortured girlfriend and to save her from the evil plot of a former co-worker and profess his undying love. Simple enough, right?
In the hands of an entirely different creative team, this story might have worked on stage. But instead of creating actual theater, that team insisted on replacing the audience’s imagination and its weak actors’ abilities with an endless litany of projections and gimmicky illusions.
There never was a single moment when the musical was not at odds with itself, when it was not confused about its half-Hollywood, half-Broadway identity. It’s not enough to understand the anguish Sam feels from reading it on his face or listening to his song. This production also projects that face on a huge screen in a tableau vivant that looks like a Queen album cover viewed through a kaleidoscope.
It’s not enough to include a song about greed called “More.” This production must project the word “MORE” 4,000 times, in what looks like a series of warring Fox News tickers. Should the show include the original version of “Unchained Melody” from the film or a new interpretation? It can’t decide, so it settles on an unlistenable combination of the two. Dance numbers play out against screens projecting still more dancers, like Apple advertisements gone horribly awry.
“Ghost the Musical” is the latest evidence of a disturbing lack of faith from Broadway producers in the intelligence of their audiences and in their capacity to appreciate theater that has the guts to be theater.
There is a reason nearly 3,000 people chose to come to Shea’s on Tuesday night to see a show instead of heading to the cineplex for “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs II.” We don’t go to the theater to have our imaginations replaced by blinking lights and cheap gimmicks, but to have them stoked and activated by art.
One star (Out of four)
What: “Ghost the Musical”
When: Through Sunday
Where: Shea’s Performing Arts Center, 646 Main St.
Tickets: $32.50 to $57.50