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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

 
GHOST: THE MUSICAL
at the Piccadilly

HIGH-GRADE CHEESE
By DONALD HUTERA

  Caissie Levy/ Ph: Sean Ebsworth Barnes

The West End’s conversion into a live-action adjunct of the local multiplex continues apace with Ghost. Like the string of movie-derived productions preceding it, from Legally Blonde to Shrek, this one has been refashioned as a musical. Ghost, however, belongs to a special sub-genre within the genre: the Patrick Swayze adaptation. Following in the footsteps of Dirty Dancing, it too is based on one of the late actor’s two massive, big-screen hits. All the early signs indicate that this supernatural romantic comedy-thriller could be just as much of a success on stage.
 
Ghost still holds up as one of the best cater-to-all-tastes populist date movies. The film’s famously sexy pottery wheel scene is only partially re-created in the live version (but watered down), as is "Unchained Melody," although both are necessarily in slightly different form.
 
Directed by Matthew Warchus, this Ghost oozes confidence. Could it perhaps be because any potential kinks were ironed out during a six-week run in Manchester prior to the London transfer? It probably helps that the book is by Bruce Joel Rubin, who won an Oscar for his original screenplay for the 1990 blockbuster. In interviews he continues to wax rhapsodic about every aspect of the film’s creation.
 
The premise for the script remains remarkably persuasive: Fatally betrayed by his best friend and colleague Carl (Andrew Langtree), the ghost of hunky young banker Sam Wheat (Richard Fleeshman) enlists the aid of a reluctant store-front psychic (Sharon D Clarke) to expose Carl and protect his grieving sculptress girlfriend Molly (Caissie Levy). The result is a commercially viable combination of mushy but potent emotion, laughs and danger, plus a big dollop of spirituality pegged on the irresistible notions of unfinished business and undying love.
 
And let’s not forget the hi-tech special effects. Warchus has enlisted illusionist Paul Kieve to assist his creative team in making us believe that Sam really can slip first an arm and then his body through a door or, on an even simpler level, unsuccessfully try to pick up a paper cup. The latter is sitting there onstage. We can see it. But we also see Sam’s hand pass right through it. 
 
This is one of several "now how did they do that?" moments in the show. Sam’s fights down in the subway with an angry ghost (the dreadlocked, rap-spouting Adebayo Bolaji), who later instructs him in the art of using mind over matter, are slick and exciting. But there’s theatrical magic throughout thanks to Rob Howell’s designs that take full advantage of Jon Dirscoll’s razzle-dazzle digital projections and the expertise of Hugh Vanstone’s sometimes impressively ectoplasmatic lighting. These sophisticated and spectacular production values render Ghost a pumped-up and streamlined slice of high-grade cheese that tugs at the heartstrings.
 
As for its standing as a musical, with lyrics by Rubin and music by the Eurythmics’ Dave Stewart and Glen Ballard (co-author and producer of Alanis Morissette’s era-defining album "Jagged Little Pill"), the score is more serviceable than memorable. Pop-rock power-ballads, sometimes needlessly overamplified, predominate, as well as sprinklings of revival-meeting gospel for Clarke and a somewhat ill-judged, if understandable, old-style tap number. It may be worth noting that my regard for the music, and the skill with which it’s been integrated into the plot, has strengthened after listening to the CD. In any case the score, in tandem with the script, works.
 
Some of the credit for this is due to the casting. Although the passion they’re meant to convey might seem a tad hollow at times, the two leads are likeable and attractive. The urgent balance Fleeshman strikes between amazement and rage at Sam’s situation goes a long way toward putting the story across, while Levy contributes some effortlessly soaring vocals. Langtree is suitably snaky as the grasping, deceitful Carl. Clarke brings sassy f

 


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