Tuesday, April 24, 2012

In the Spirit of Critical Congruency, Noting the Negativity about 'Ghost the Musical' on Broadway

(Note: This is not a review; I have not seen Ghost in New York, though I did see it in London)

As I hopefully make rather evident in my writings on this blog, I have tremendous regard and respect for the arts--and anyone who participates in them at any level.

So although I enjoy giving an honest appraisal of shows I see--and as I am not a professional critic, I actually pay to see them and am not compensated in any way for my reviews--I don't revel in being negative, nor nasty, about shows I don't like.

Even at the low level of reach and influence that Seth Saith enjoys, writing something unkind about a performance, and especially performers, would be to insult people who are far more theatrically, or musically, etc., talented than I'll ever be.

And bad professional reviews, particularly by New York theater critics about new Broadway shows, have caused many a show to close much earlier than planned. While this can be seen as a public service in saving audiences considerable money and time in seeing dreck, it also can cost many an actor, musician, stagehand, souvenir seller and ticket taker their source of income.

So I'm not hoping that Ghost the Musical closes quickly on Broadway in the wake of mostly scathing reviews after opening last night at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre in New York. But based on having found the show quite lousy when I saw it in London in late November with the same lead actors, I didn't feel it merited a Broadway production (unless the producers tremendously improved it).

Though I accept that my opinion of musicals, plays, concerts, movies, etc. may often differ from those offered by professional critics, I respect the judgments of theater writers like Chris Jones of the Chicago Tribune and Hedy Weiss of the Chicago Sun-Times enough to really wonder why they might have loved something I didn't (such as with Camino Real at the Goodman Theater; I found it almost unwatchable--as did many audience members who left early--yet Jones raved about it).

Thus, even as the half-assed critic that I pretend to be, or even just as an avid theater lover, I'm often quite curious about how Chicago and New York critics will review a show, particularly one I really loved or hated. I still recall how, after catching a pre-Broadway production of Hairspray in Seattle in 2003, I told my mom that it would win the Tony for Best Musical. And I felt appraisingly validated when it did (after garnering great reviews upon opening on Broadway).

Now, as proof that critical reviews don't always matter much to audiences, when in London last November with my friend Paolo, we opted to see Ghost--with half-price TKTS, mind you--despite it getting middling notices from the London critics. The show, based on the popular 1990 movie, had opened in July 2011 and is still running in London, so a cherished title can supersede negative reviews, and did so even in my case.

But by intermission, Paolo and I were in accordance that what we were watching just wasn't very good. Despite being written by Bruce Joel Rubin, who also wrote the movie that we both recalled favorably, the story and dialogue were hokey and shallow. And even with music by Dave Stewart (of the Eurythmics) and successful pop songwriter Glen Ballard, few of the songs could even be termed tuneful, let alone memorable.

It took me awhile to post a review here, but within a recap of my London/Paris trip, I gave it @@ out of 5. I called it "pretty darn awful," but didn't waste a lot of space ragging on it. Especially as much of what made it subpar was in its tone, and thus difficult to expound upon. I also didn't expect many Americans to have a chance to see it anytime soon; though in theory the Hollywood-to-Broadway (via London) transfer seemed a natural, the show itself just seemed too slight to survive the New York press.

So when I noted shortly thereafter that Ghost the Musical would open on Broadway in April, I was rather shocked. Yes, popular movies turned into musicals have long sold tickets on name alone, but usually it takes their being rather good to really have legs (and thus recoup the investment): The Producers and Hairspray being prime examples, High Fidelity and 9-to-5 the opposite and Young Frankenstein and Shrek having fairly good but not fantastic runs despite mediocre reviews.

While the creative team of Ghost may have been pleased with the box office take in London, the lukewarm press had to be concerning.

The leads in London, Caissie Levy (Molly) and Richard Fleeshman (Sam)--who have reprised their roles on Broadway--were attractive and not completely unappealing, and noting above the trickle-down economics of a Broadway show, I wish the enterprise well. But I'm not eagerly anticipating the day, about three years from now, when Ghost shows up on my Broadway in Chicago subscription series.

And thus, when I awoke this morning and saw reviews that said things such as:
"[Ghost] may not be the very worst musical ever made from a movie. ... But it is just as flavorless and lacking in dramatic vitality as many that have come before."
-- Charles Isherwood, New York Times

"This musical suffers from a jerky tone and by putting a premium on high-tech over heart."
-- Joe Dziemianowicz, New York Daily News
"The turgid score doesn’t boast a single decent hook."
-- Elizabeth Vincentelli, New York Post

"There is so much wrong with "Ghost," it's hard to know where to start."
-- Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune
...well, I can't say that I was surprised.

Still, box office receipts for Ghost on Broadway have looked solid during its preview weeks--although anyone so inclined in or heading to NYC should be able to find discounts at the TKTS booth or ahead of time through Broadway Box--so perhaps it will have a long and spirited run, after all.

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