The show centers on Sam Wheat (Richard Fleeshman), a banker killed during a mugging who remains on earth as a ghost. His girlfriend Molly (Caissie Levy) is left grieving for him, while his best friend and co-worker Carl (Bryce Pinkham) deals with decidedly different consequences as a result of Sam's death.
By chance, Sam's spirit meets up with Oda Mae Brown (Da'Vine Joy Randolph), a con artist who starts to manifest actual psychic talents when she hears Sam speak to her. He enlists her help to save Molly, after learning that his death was no accident and that she might be in danger.
For those familiar with the original 1990 movie, the plot holds no surprises. Indeed, the musical features a script from Bruce Joel Rubin, who won an Academy Award for his original screenplay of the film. He lifts substantial sections of the dialogue directly from the movie, but the characters feel flatter on stage than on screen -- particularly Molly.
The songs -- featuring music & lyrics by Dave Stewart and Glen Ballard and additional lyrics by Rubin -- sometimes dramatize moments that don't need it. "Three Little Words" showcases the still living Sam's inability to say, "I love you," to Molly, but that was already established in an earlier scene, and the song goes on for such a long stretch of stage time that Sam just comes across looking like a jerk. Other songs simply stop the forward momentum of the plot, as with "I'm Outta Here," Oda Mae's big second-act production number.
The show's strongest original song is "Suspend My Disbelief," which Molly sings at the end of the first act as she starts to believe that Sam really is trying to communicate with her through Oda Mae. However, the tune that the audience is most likely to go out of the theater humming is the classic "Unchained Melody," which has been imported into the musical (in various guises) due to its iconic use in the film.
Fleeshman does a fine job as Sam, effectively demonstrating the character's confusion, anger, and compassion. Levy has a wonderful singing voice, but does not convey the depths of Molly's grief convincingly. Randolph is very funny as Oda Mae, although it takes awhile for her to hit her stride, partly due to the rather mediocre gospel-flavored number that introduces her.
Still, what people are most likely to remember from the show are its magical illusions, created by Paul Kieve. Watching Sam walking through what had been previously established as a solid door is one of those "how did they do that moments," and even when you can figure out how a trick works, it's still quite delightful to see.
On the other hand, Jon Driscoll's video and projection design would be more effective if used sparingly. While at times it truly serves to supplement Kieve's illusions and the changeovers in Rob Howell's set design, the video's attempts to incorporate cinematic pans of cityscapes and pre-recorded images of the actors contribute little to the stage production and may serve as a reminder to audience members that they might be better entertained by just renting the movie.
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