‘Ghost’ is Banal, Blinding; ‘Lyons’ Electrifies: Review

Caissie Levy and Richard Fleeshman in ``Ghost: The Musical,'' which features Alex North's "Unchained Melody," the song that graced the 1990 movie. Photographer: Sean Ebsworth Barnes/Hartman Group P.R. via Bloomberg

If the comic-book ideal appeals to you as much as it apparently did to director Matthew Warchus -- and if you haven’t been to the movies in, say, a couple of decades -- “Ghost: The Musical” has plenty to offer.

Palpitating with light-emitting diodes that blink, flicker, zip and flash, “Ghost” is like “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” without the depth.

Before you know it, ushers at musicals will be handing out 3D glasses to customers. Which will be odd, you know, since Broadway shows generally take place in all three dimensions.

Clever use of video, moving panels and scrims sort of thrust you into the rush of New York City craziness and menace. Buildings whiz by.

Views from the heights may make you dizzy. Characters magically disappear or walk through doors and speeding subway cars.

Based on the 1990 Jerry Zucker film, “Ghost” is the story of Sam Wheat (Richard Fleeshman in the Patrick Swayze role), a super buff banker, and his girlfriend Molly Jensen (Caissie Levy, in Demi Moore’s part), a struggling sculptress.

Their combined incomes allow them to buy raw loft space and convert it into a posh passion pit-cum-potter’s studio.

Bad Break

When Sam is killed in a botched robbery set up by his dastardly assistant, he teams up with sketchy psychic con artist Oda Mae Brown (Da’Vine Joy Randolph, in the Whoopi Goldberg role) to protect Molly and -- spoiler alert -- finally tell her how much he loves her.

There are enough LEDs to compete with the billboards outside the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre in Times Square. They give the show the look of a video game, which the creative team says was their intention.

Unsurprisingly, Rob Howell’s physical production (with video and projections by Jon Driscoll, illusions by Paul Kieve, lighting by Hugh Vanstone and sound by Bobby Aitken) vastly overwhelm the slim plot.

As the lovers, Fleeshman and Levy have the generic appeal of Broadway understudies, competent while lacking in style or star quality.

Vulgar Caricature

Randolph’s Oda Mae, on the other hand, has been turned into a vulgar, wild-eyed caricature of the type that Goldberg scrupulously avoided in her Oscar-winning performance. I doubt it’s Randolph’s fault.

Warchus keeps things moving at warp speed except when choreographer Ashley Wallen stops the show in its tracks for dances with all the artistry of a Jane Fonda workout.

Screenwriter Bruce Joel Rubin wrote the book and banal lyrics, the latter with Dave Stewart and Glen Ballard, who also wrote the tunes. All except one: “Unchained Melody,” the hypnotic ‘50s pop ballad that anchored the film.

That song has lyrics by Hy Zaret to a tune by Alex North -- the composer, as it happens, of the incidental music for “Death of a Salesman” also getting a second life, in Mike Nichols’s current Broadway revival.

There’s more heart and soul in that number than in all the exhausting busyness around it.

At 205 W. 46th St. Information: +1-877-250-2929; http://www.ticketmaster.com. Rating: *

‘The Lyons’

In Nicky Silver’s brutal comedy “The Lyons,” Linda Lavin dives into the role of Rita, a mother embittered by a mediocre and mostly loveless life, and finds a wellspring of feeling that saves the play from drowning in bile.

The play, staged by Mark Brokaw, has moved uptown from the invaluable Vineyard Theatre. It opens in a hospital room, where the impending death of her unloved and unloving husband Ben (the incomparably gruff Dick Latessa) does nothing to soften Rita’s withering attitude.

“Even if there is a hell, I can’t believe you’re going,” she tells him. “I mean, it’s a little grandiose of you.”

Rita holds back nothing from her grown children, either.

Curtis (Michael Esper), her gay son, is a struggling writer with imaginary boyfriends; he can’t let go of “the Hindenberg of my childhood.”

Lisa (Kate Jennings Grant), is a recovering alcoholic who strikes up a relationship with the dying man down the hall.

Silver, an expert in unearthing powerful connections in dysfunctional families, finds a way to make us sympathize with Rita, especially when she announces her intention of cutting off Lisa and Curtis financially in order to take up with a beau who promises her a life of fun.

‘Everything Changes’

“It may seem fast, or look abrupt, but that’s the way the world is,” she tells her astonished children. “You wait and wait and wait and then everything changes, all at once!”

The look on their faces -- fear, abandonment, desperation, disbelief -- as she takes her leave speaks volumes as the lights go down. It’s an unforgettable moment.

At the Cort Theatre, 138 W. 48th St. Information: +1-212-239-6200; http://www.telecharge.com. Rating: ***

What the Stars Mean:
****        Do Not Miss
***         Excellent
**          Good
*           So-So
(No stars)  Avoid

(Jeremy Gerard is the chief U.S. drama critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

Today’s Muse highlights include James Pressley on Paul Krugman and Manuela Hoelterhoff on Pablo Heras-Casado.

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