With screenwriter Bruce Joel Rubin on board as writer and co-lyricist, it's not surprising that the story sticks pretty closely to that of the film, often recreating dialogue line for line. After Wall Street banker Sam Wheat (Richard Fleeshman) is shot and killed, instead of going towards the light, his spirit sticks around to protect his grieving girlfriend Molly (Caissie Levy). In his newly incorporeal form, he is forced to turn to up-until-now fraudulent psychic Oda Mae Brown (Sharon D. Clarke) for help.
Matthew Warchus' production is something more than just a slavish re-tread, tweaking familiar scenes, sometimes in rather inventive ways. The paranoid subway spectre who teaches Sam how to touch things is now a rather more menacing figure than he was on screen, ranting and snarling, trailing a tangle of white dreadlocks. These subway scenes are dizzying and dazzling, the descent beneath the streets created by elaborate video projections, giving the whole show a theme park feel. (In fact, Rob Howell's design is impressive throughout, the set moving seamlessly from the shimmer of Manhattan's financial district to sinister Harlem back alleys).
On the opposite end of the scale, Warchus' reworking of one of the film's most iconic moments, the playing of the pop hit "Unchained Melody," is handled in a pleasing and touching way, with Sam singing it himself in an effort to soothe Molly's temper.
It's a shame that the remaining songs are so unremarkable. The new numbers, by Dave Stewart and Glen Ballard, seem perfunctory at best; at worst; they undermine the emotional impact of the show. This most overt example is in the hospital scene immediately following Sam's death; this potentially devastating and unsettling moment is probably not the time for a comedy number, but this is what we get in the form of the ill-conceived "Ball of Wax." Later, another potentially powerful moment, the revelation that Sam's death was actually a murder, is swamped by smoke machines and bland rock.
Fleeshman and Levy are appealing leads; he is appealingly stoic and unshowy, while she has a glorious voice and does her best to inject some genuine emotion into the often tepid songs. As the flamboyant Oda Mae, Clark steers wisely away from impersonating the role's originator Whoopi Goldberg, and turns in a lively comic performance that's not without warmth, and the supporting cast is uniformly strong.
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