Review – Ghost: The Musical

May 16, 2013 | By | 1 Reply More

✭✭✭✭✩    Puts the spectre in spectacular

Edinburgh Playhouse: Tue 14 May – Sat 1 June 2013
Review by Martin Gray

Sam Wheat has it all – a great job, a great home and most of all, a great woman. Then he loses it all, killed in an apparently random street mugging.

He doesn’t move on to the next world, though, because he has unfinished business – protecting love Molly from the men responsible for his death. Unable to communicate with her, psychic Oda Mae Brown is his only hope…

Photo Credit: Ghost the Musical

Stewart Clarke and Rebecca Trehearn Photo: Ghost the Musical

A massive screen hit in 1990, Ghost had a generation in tears, as Demi Moore’s heart broke over the loss of Patrick Swayze, and Whoopi Goldberg tried to help. Adding song and dance is a risky proposition: it worked brilliantly as a straightforward romantic drama. Can you keep the familiar story beats while finding room for the kind of big numbers that get a live audience applauding – lush ballads, character-revealing tunes and the odd comedy song?

Ghost certainly deserves an A for effort in terms of theatrical ambition (unlike earlier Swayze translation Dirty Dancing, which isn’t so much theatre as a Betamax pageant). The structure survives and attention has been paid to character dynamics, meaning that while Sam is quickly killed off, you feel the loss because the relationship with Molly has been efficiently sketched in.

And as we watch the friendship between Sam and Oda Mae grow, we believe. Most of all, we believe the newly dead Sam’s journey from incredulity to frustration, anger, determination and finally, peace. The work is there in Bruce Joel Rubin’s script and the characters’ dramatic arcs are brought to life with skill and charm by leads: Stewart Clarke, Rebecca Trehearn and Karlene Wray.

Charisma to spare

Trehearn is heartbreaking as Molly, the sculptor who can’t get on with her life after Sam’s death, while Wray – filling in the role of Oda Mae Brown – knocks every gag out of the park, a valuable skill in a show that centres on loss. Clarke has leading man charisma to spare, along with a lush set of pipes. And the sweetly voiced David Roberts convinces as friend turned villain Carl.

A show too much in love with its own visuals? Photo credit: Ghost the Musical on tour

A show too much in love with its own visuals? Photo credit: Ghost the Musical on tour

As for the songs, they work well within the show, but I can’t see anyone rushing to buy the CD – they’re simply not terribly memorable, surprising given that Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics co-wrote the lyrics with Grammy winner Glen Ballard. A single showstopper would go a long way towards elevating the evening. It would help if musical director David Rose tones down the sound a tad, as performers are rather drowned out in the odd number, such as the opening Here Right Now. The best songs are Oda Mae’s barnstorming I’m Outta Here, energetic New York scene-setter More, and Molly’s moving ballad With You.

And then, of course, there’s Righteous Brothers classic Unchained Melody, which accompanied the film’s iconic moment, as Sam comforts Molly at her potter’s wheel. It shows up sung live by Sam and Molly – and on the radio in its best-known version – and sounds lovely each time. The live recreation of the tender moment, though, is pretty much thrown away. It is too brief to appreciate that Molly is gradually feeling Sam’s presence for the first time since his slaying.

Buy the Original
Cast Recording:

Special effects come courtesy of illusionist Paul Kieve, allowing the blue-lit Sam to walk convincingly through walls, souls to ascend to Heaven and bad guys to descend to Hell. They do the job, without inspiring awe; Sam’s learning to move objects, for example, is too small in the staging, with the audience invited to stare at a tiny takeaway box and the odd coffee cup. It’s moments like this that have you longing for a good-old fashioned close-up.

It’s not as if this show hasn’t the capacity for such a thing – rarely is a production so in love with back projection. And front projection. And side projection… There is no need for eye-aching, moving backdrops of New York, filled with shadow versions of the talented ensemble essaying office workers and street people. This is theatre, we can use our imagination. For the most part, the device is needlessly distracting.

The scenes in which the projections really add to the story see Sam on a subway train, interacting with the excellent Steve Hutchinson’s distinctly unfriendly subway spook. The film combines with the performers in a tremendously effective manner. This apart, I’d rather see actors, script and staging trusted to evoke the busy borough that is New York.

Overall, Ghost makes for an enjoyable night out, with intriguing staging, value-packed production numbers and fine performances. It’s not a show to come back from the dead for, but it’s definitely worth a trip to Edinburgh Playhouse.

Running time 2 hrs 50 mins
Edinburgh Playhouse, Greenside Place. Daily 7.30pm, (Thurs, Sat mats 2.30pm).
Full details on Playhouse website: www.atgtickets.com

Ghost: The Musical on tour:

14 May – 1 June 2013 Edinburgh
Edinburgh Playhouse
0844 871 3014 Book online
Wed 3 – Sat 15 June 2013 Wolverhampton
Grand Theatre
01902 429 212 Book online
17 – 29 June 2013 Leeds
Leeds Grand Theatre
0844 848 2700 Book online
2 – 20 July 2013 Manchester
Opera House
0844 871 30188 Book online
13 – 24 August 2013 Nottingham
Royal Concert Hall
0115 989 5555 Book online
27 Aug – 14 Sept 2013 Bristol
The Bristol Hippodrome
0844 871 3012 Book online
17 – 28 Sept 2013 Milton Keynes
Milton Keynes Theatre
0844 871 7652 Book online
1 – 19 October 2013 Glasgow
The King’s Theatre
0844 871 7648 Book online
29 Oct – 9 Nov 2013 Southampton
The Mayflower Theatre
02380 711811 Book online
12 – 23 Nov 2013 Woking
The New Victoria Theatre
0844 871 7645 Book online
26 Nov – 7 Dec 2013 Sunderland
Sunderland Empire
0844 871 3022 Book online
17 Dec 2013 – 5 Jan 2014 Birmingham
The New Alexandra Theatre
0844 871 3011 Book online

ENDS

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