TO SEE OR NOT TO SEE: “Ghost” & “A Streetcar Named Desire”
The mad rush to make Tony eligibility becomes a full on avalanche this week. Let’s ride the wave of openings with multiple review round-ups today and tomorrow. First up, two shows that earn gasps from the audience — when their leading men take off their shirts. (I’m not kidding.)
The teary-eyed “classic” film about romance in the afterlife, sexy pottery throwing and sassy mediums, makes it to Broadway as a visually spectacular musical with songs by pop heavyweights Glen Ballard and Dave Stewart.
“…thrill-free singing theme-park ride.” New York Times
“Overall, it’s an ambitious, carefully orchestrated work that raises the bar on technological innovation.” Associated Press
“…a lumbering megatuner with little to offer beyond a limitless array of dazzling effects.” Variety
“Much of Ghost is loud and tacky enough to wake the dead, yet there are undeniable signs of vitality from the machine side of this Broadway cyborg.” New York Magazine
Mizer’s Two Cents: Right after the show, I was at a serious loss for words — which, like a cage fight, is a terrible spot to be in as a writer. Did I recommend the show or not? Your choice to see or not to see this one will likely depend on which of the following qualities are most important to you.
First and foremost, the illusions meant to convey spirits walking through doors, tossing subway patrons and flying to the afterlife (whether high tech video trickery or simple bait and switch techniques) are gleefully fun and almost uniformly convincing. Similarly, the boundary pushing video screen set is never less than fascinating, whether eye-poppingly beautiful or 90′s music video hyperactive. Either way, if you love stagecraft, this show gives you state of the art theater-making to buzz about. In addition, the leading players are engaging, attractive performers and singers– particularly Caissie Levy as the bereaved sculptor, with her effortlessly polished vocals and warm believability elevating a one-note part.
On the down side, the script feels under-dramatized and choppy. Except in some comedic moments involving the medium played by Da’Vine Joy Randolph (Whoopi Goldberg’s Oscar-winning role), the show never quite gets up to storytelling speed no matter how quickly the production drives across the plot-holes. As for the score, some of the songs may sound good as stand-alone singles but they don’t make much dramatic impact within the story, nor do they mine the situations for rich insights. And a few, like a paean to New York business or an 11 o’clock comedic number, are more than just a little ridiculous. If you are looking for finely crafted musical theater, this ain’t it. That being said, the screenplay’s story, as cheesy as it might have been, is almost primal in its effectiveness and still exerts a teary-eyed pull, even as cut and pasted into this adaptation.
The latest revival of Tennessee William’s masterpiece comes to Broadway featuring a multiracial cast directed by Emily Mann.
“…this Streetcar is mostly an exquisite snooze.” New York Times
“Parker, in particular, deserves a better foil, because her take on Blanche feels fresh, especially in the first act.” New York Post
“…a solid, atmospheric staging that favors the play’s raw sensuality and humor.” Hollywood Reporter
“…Mann and her company deserve credit for respectfully trying to lend new shadings to an old masterwork.” USA Today
Mizer’s Two Cents: This competent revival is interesting not so much for its trumpeted racial diversity (which feels authentic and generally seamless) but for the fact that William’s play is suddenly revealed to be a comedy. Far from unintentional, the laughs come as a result of the actors’ carefully laid line-readings and even more out of the oddly boisterous mood set by dance & music filled transitions that release tension and encourage us to feel we are watching an entertainment. The quartet of leading actors are all attractive and their professional performances allow the script to be the star — with Nicole Ari Parker as Blanche making particularly clear and committed choices. It may sound like a backhanded compliment but, instead of being caught up in bold takes on the characters, we are free to listen to William’s writing (generally delivered with clarity and thoughtfulness) and marvel at how influential and lovely it is. I, for one, am glad I got to experience that.