Front Row Review: Ghost The Musical

Date Posted: 20/07/2011

Following its world premiere at the Manchester Opera House, Melissa Cadby attended London’s press night to see if Ghost The Musical leaves the same spirited impression on West End audiences.

To see photos from the opening night and the after party go to our Facebook page.

The Piccadilly Theatre was packed to the rafters, anticipation high on the back of consistently glowing reviews from its north-west outing. To be honest, my personal expectations were low, purely based on the fact that having last seen the film over a decade ago as a moody teenager, the movie’s romanticism was lost on me. However the show got off to a good start, as we’re introduced to our leading couple, banker Sam and artist Molly, played by former soap star Richard Fleeshman and stage actress Caissie Levy respectively. It immediately became clear, as the pair’s relationship is established early on, that the team behind Ghost are not trying to directly reinterpret Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore, which came as a welcome relief.

Based in New York, the young protagonists portray a believable partnership as lovers setting up their first home together. The accents were credible and the chemistry alive; the production team’s clever use of projection screens and video walls to create a photo montage only works to enhance it. Add to this some slick set changes, brilliant backdrops, a moving floor and clever dance sequences, and the audience were transported on-location to the ‘Big Apple’.

With the exception of a few small details, the musical’s storyline remains true to that of the award-winning 1990 movie, which comes as no surprise, with the film’s screenplay writer Bruce Joel Rubin on board. The costumes and conversations crystallise the fact that it had been subtlety brought up-to-date, now set in modern times. As Sam is killed during a street robbery which goes wrong, we’re introduced to the first of a whole host of impressive special effects. With a helping hand from magic consultant Paul Kieve, the creative cast used lights, smoke, screens, strings, projections and body doubles to produce ghostly illusions worthy of the Magic Circle.

With the backing of the live orchestra in the pit, Levy’s depiction of the grieving girlfriend was passionate, with a goosebump-inducing emotional solo, whilst Fleeshman, despite his tender age, delivered a powerfully bitter rendition of I Had A Life. The score was written by accomplished songwriter Glen Ballard and Eurythmics musician Dave Stewart, and though not all the songs were particularly memorable, a few numbers, such as this, shone through.

The introduction of phoney psychic Oda Mae Brown brought colour, vigour and humour to the proceedings, and kept things from getting too serious. Whoopi Goldberg won her Oscar in the film, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Sharon D. Clarke is rewarded with some kind of recognition for her role. Her comic timing was spot-on, leaving my fellow spectators in stitches, but her sober performance when channellingSam’s spirit in the latter half of act two was also notable, with her vocals in the gospel number near note-perfect.

Andrew Langtree supports the leading couple with his take on two-faced Carl Bruner, whilst the Subway Ghost, played by Adebayo Bolaji, put in a convincingly threatening display during the underground train sequences. The ensemble cast take on a majority of the dancing, which I found to be much more focussed on scene-related movement over flashy routines. It added nicely to the production, but certainly didn’t trivialise the content. I also thought that the ratio of acting to singing was a good balance, as realised by Ghost’s director Matthew Warchus.

As the show headed towards its finale, along came the moment that my cynical teenage self was dreading – the infamous pottery scene. Since parodied in many television programmes, even I found myself getting emotional as The Righteous Brothers broke out into Unchained Melody. Fleeshman and Levy managed to create something moving, yet devoid of cliché. In all, my enjoyment of Ghost The Musical came as a big surprise – I was relieved that the show had been updated; that the leads weren’t an imitation of the Swayze / Moore coupling; that Sam’s ghost didn’t see him painted white; and of course, I was pleased that the pottery scene was tastefully executed.

Ghost The Musical induced laughter, tears, shocks and a standing ovation - and all of that from an old cynic like me. I predict that this one will run and run.

Ghost The Musical is currently booking at the Piccadilly Theatre until the 28th January. Performance times are Monday to Saturday evening at 7.30pm, with afternoon matinees on Thursdays and Saturdays at 2.30pm. Groups of ten and 40 plus are entitled to discounted ticket rates, valid Monday to Thursday evenings and Thursday matinees. 

Image credit - Sean Ebsworth Barnes

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