The film this show was based on, despite winning two Oscars, has a rather vocal set of detractors, but it’s actually a lovely and touching romantic drama, and its rich atmosphere and extreme romanticism certainly had musical possibilities. And while the musical ended up as a failure, it actually seemed at first to have a great deal going for it.
The stage book was almost dogmatically faithful to the movie script, and the score was written by two impressive musical talents, Dave Stewart (the songwriter/producer behind the great synth-pop band Eurhythmics) and Glen Ballard (co-author of many Michael Jackson hits, including “Man In the Mirror”).
The resulting score was not without its missteps…for example, the inane tap-dance number “Ball of Wax” is pure floppo, the big chorus number “More” is incredibly cheesy, and “Focus” is one of Broadway’s more embarrassing attempts at rap. Also, the inclusion of the film’s theme song, the old-school rock classic “Unchained Melody”, seems like a pretty desperate move on the creators’ part, especially as it sounds completely out of place next to the synth-pop sound of the rest of the score.
But the bulk of the score is ravishing, and it does an outstanding job of capturing the feelings of the film in song. The first two numbers for the leads…“Here Right Now” and “Three Little Words”…are genuinely sweet love duets that do a good job of making us care about these characters. The show’s female lead gets two amazingly heartfelt ballads, the desperately sad “With You” and the quietly optimistic “Nothing Stops Another Day”. The counterpoint anthems “Suspend My Disbelief” and “I Had A Life” are incredibly moving, and the two gospel/R&B-flavored showstoppers for the character played by Whoopi Goldberg in the film, if perhaps a touch too predictable, are both strong.
What really did the show in was the ridiculously overblown and over-elaborate staging—as suited as the film was to being expressed in song, it was actually rather emphatically unsuited to being done on a live stage. In the movie, the effects that allowed the hero to jump through the walls of subway cars and move things while seemingly invisible weren’t distracting, because those things are taken for granted on film, but on the stage, they were so overwhelming that they simply swallowed up the simple love story at the center of the show.
This would have been bad enough if the special effects had actually worked properly; in reality, it was the glitchiest production since Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, with problems so severe they actually resulted in a thirty-minute stage wait on opening night while the mechanical set was repaired, a fact not a single critic failed to remark on. That embarrassing incident alone might have been what sealed the show’s doom, but Ghost, high-profile failure though it was, has a small but very devoted fanbase, and the moving story and largely wonderful score make the show oddly hard to dismiss.