I can call myself lucky – I had front row tickets to the premiere of Ghost the Musical at the Piccadilly Theatre in London last night.
I saw the 1990 film Ghost as a teenager and remember it well – as a romantic, touching and utterly enjoyable cinematic experience I’ll never forget. I’ve seen the film several times since and will doubtless watch it again.
When I heard the film was going to be made into a musical, produced by Matthew Warchus, I thought ‘Yes! Finally’!
Bruce Joel Rubin, who wrote the film, also agreed to write the book/lyrics for the musical. Two legends of the music scene – Dave Stewart and Glen Ballard – were in charge of writing the music/lyrics. Add illusions by Paul Kieve, lightning by Hugh Vanstone and projections by Jon Driscoll, set and costume by Rob Howell and choreography by Ashley Wallen and fantastic musical theatre actors such as Caissie Levy, Richard Fleeshman, Sharon D. Clarke, Andrew Langtree and a great Ensemble – well, the result should be simply mind-blowing.
I had already heard and read a lot of good things about the run in Manchester and couldn’t wait to finally see the show – and getting to be part of the opening night audience is, of course, very special indeed.
My overall verdict? One word: WOW!!!! OK, not very specific but it encompasses all of the emotions I felt throughout the evening. I was enthralled, wowed, lifted up high, dropped, felt the characters’ despair and anger, was moved to tears and lifted up again, smiled, laughed and left the auditorium feeling absolutely exhausted – but happy and warm inside. What more could you ask for?
Late last night and this morning I read most of the reviews the professional critics (who saw the show last week) had posted online – and couldn’t believe a lot of what I was reading. Had they been to see the same show??
Luckily, it is not these critics that decide whether a musical becomes a success or not. It is the people who buy tickets to go and see the show, people who want to spend a memorable night out, be moved and entertained – and people who go back to see the same show again and again and listen to the soundtrack at home.
Right, so here is my review. I am not a critic – just someone who loves musicals, especially if they touch me in some way and make me feel good. So I’m just one of the ‘normal’ kind of theatregoer. And Ghost the Musical has gone straight into the top 5 of my all-time favourite musicals (and it is not easy to get in there, trust me!).
One of the things that the critics have praised unanimously – and rightly so – is the fantastic special effects, including the videos, projections and cunning tricks. I could hear people around me gasping in disbelief several times during the show. I still find myself wondering ‘how on earth did they do THAT!’ One has to remember that it is much harder to create supernatural scenes on stage, right in front of people’s eyes (rather than on a computer, like in a film) and make them work. And gosh, do they work! I don’t want to spoil anything in case you have not seen the musical yet so just be warned: you will be amazed!
It is also unbelievably clever how different locations are created within seconds, from chaotic Manhattan and Wall Street offices, Molly and Sam’s home to a moving subway train. Perfection! I’d like to congratulate Paul Kieve, Hugh Vanstone, Jon Driscoll, Rob Howell, Ashley Wallen and the crew. Genius!
As for the storyline, Bruce Joel Rubin stays true to the film. Yet, the musical is not a ‘copy’ of the film with a few songs thrown in and some visual effects added. It’s a masterpiece in its own right.
It’s still the story of banker Sam and artist Molly who make the perfect couple – but it is not to be. Sam is murdered, as a consequence of his best mate’s actions. Ghost the Musical explores the depths of Molly’s grief, of Sam’s despair as he is trying to get a message through to Molly. He can’t move on until he has dealt with his ’unfinished business’ – namely Carl and the killer. There’s also “three little words” that require some attention before it’s finally time to leave Molly’s side.
The chemistry between Richard and Caissie is spot-on and you totally believe what they’re trying to sell you – that there’s true love between them. You see it in their eyes, you know it’s in their hearts, there are no secrets there, no lies…(see what I did there?)
One thing everyone remembers from the film is the iconic pottery scene – once voted the most romantic film scene of all times – which was also written into the musical, including the Righteous Brothers’ Unchained Melody. However, the scene is cut short. At first I was a bit disappointed, thinking it should have lasted a bit longer than it did but I then realised: it reminds everyone that this is not Ghost the Film and doesn’t try to be. This is Ghost the Musical with its own highlights and special scenes. It makes perfect sense.
Both Richard and Caissie are perfect for their roles, as is Andrew Langtree who plays the pathetic little creep Carl who has major cash-flow issues and tries to use his best friend, getting him killed in the process – and then hits on Molly. Not easy playing the villain in a romantic story – Andrew does a superb job.
You don’t need to believe in the Spirit World for the musical to speak to you. It’s about true love, compassion, dealing with losing a loved one and yes, being lifted above it all – without it being soppy. All of this is achieved with a score of the most beautiful ballads, delivered with the captivating voices of Caissie and Richard. You can’t help but respond emotionally – Dave Stewart and Glen Ballard have excelled themselves. I could hear a grown man sobbing next to me while I was busy fishing a tissue from my handbag.
But, luckily, you are not left fighting back tears or feeling low for long after Sam is murdered or Molly sings about how empty her life is now (‘With you’). Enter the tap-dancing Hospital Ghost (Mark White) who will lift your spirits (no pun intended) and, later, Oda Mae Brown – the eccentric and, to start with anyway, fake psychic medium, played by the brilliant Sharon D. Clarke. She quite literally brings the house down with her powerful and sparkling performances of ‘I’m a believer’ and ‘I’m outta here’.
Whoopie Goldberg was a fantastic Oda Mae Brown in the film and a hard act to follow – but Sharon puts her own stamp on the role and completely makes it her own. Whenever she’s on stage, she makes the emotional rollercoaster that everyone in the audience is on go right back up.
It’s that mixture of emotions, subtly evoked by the brilliantly written songs and complemented by the special effects, that is absolutely genius and makes the whole musical work so well. You have no time to rest – there’s just so much going on the whole time!
A special mention goes to Adebayo Bolaji, the Subway Ghost – whose performance is impressive, unsettling and slightly scary. He must be completely shattered after every show! Also, Ivan de Freitas’ portrayal of Willie Lopez – the villain and murderer who kills Sam for his wallet – is very believable.
The choreography is amazing and the Ensemble do a fantastic job, walking briskly around the stage, dancing, singing and not putting a foot wrong once.
The musical “lacks heart and soul”? Dear Mr Critic, you’ve got to be kidding! Not only does Ghost the Musical have exactly that, it reaches out and touches hearts and souls on different levels.
I’ve seen a lot of plays and musicals – and I have rarely ever been part of a standing ovation that started the second the first members of the ensemble came back out on stage. This does not happen unless a show is simply breath-taking.
So, like I said, I’m not a critic but I’ve got a feeling that my view might reflect – in one way or another – what the majority of the audiences that have seen Ghost the Musical so far think. I find it hard to believe that anyone would come away thinking that the trip to the Piccadilly Theatre was a waste of time.
Me, I will be booking tickets again soon and listen to the Original Cast Recording (which was no. 1 on Amazon – guess why – because the songs are brilliant!) in the meantime. SEE YER!!
Review by Sandra Palme (Follow Sandra on Twitter: @LondonTheatre2)
Content updated 25th December 2013