Reviews OWE & Fringe Published 5 May 2013

Ghost – The Musical

New Wimbledon Theatre ⋄ April 30th – May 11th 2013

Cinema on stage.

M. F. Jones

The ever-growing list of movie-to-musical reworkings can be subdivided into a few categories. The Lion King and Mary Poppins were essentially musicals even in their cinematic form, with song and choreography integral to the narrative. The Bodyguard and Sister Act were films about singers, providing a natural framework for their musical set-pieces. And then there’s the non-musical film, such as Sunset Boulevard and The Full Monty. ‘Unchained Melody’ notwithstanding, Ghost is clearly not a musical, and might therefore provide more of an exciting opportunity to rework, reimagine and reinvent it in the musical genre, being freer from the constraints of expectation. As long as the audience get to see the two leads recreating that famous Righteous Brothers moment behind the pottery wheel, the rest is basically a blank canvas as far as song and dance are concerned.

The original West End production of Ghost the Musical was fairly experimental in this regard. It didn’t always come together, but there were attempts to include more theatrical elements – most notably with a chorus line of tap-dancing ghosts which verged on the laughable and, in this new touring production, has wisely been replaced. At heart, though, this show has always been a  film transposed, all too preoccupied with giving the viewer a simulated cinematic experience. More conservative audiences might balk at some of the methods employed to achieve this – projections, graphics, even opening credits – but it’s certainly impressive, and technically (if not artistically) experimental. It’s hard to shake the feeling, though, that what you’re watching is a recreation.

The performers acquit themselves honourably, albeit suffering from the inevitable comparisons with their Hollywood counterparts. Phony psychic Oda Mae Brown, the show-stopping gift of a role that won Whoopi Goldberg an Oscar, is portrayed by the effervescent and aptly-named Wendy Mae Brown, whose performance receives the warmest reactions of the evening, but the central character of both versions is Sam Wheat (Stewart Clarke), the ghost of the title, a deceased man on a between-worlds quest to communicate with his grieving lover, Molly, and avenge his seemingly-accidental death. Clarke is a solid leading man with a velvet voice, who confidently supplies everything the role requires of him.

The most intriguing character (and hardest to portray) is that of Molly. Sam is a ghost, and Oda Mae is essentially a cartoon, but Molly is a real alive human woman. To maximise the dramatic impact of the story, she should be so naturally sceptical of Oda Mae and her insistence that Sam is speaking to her, that we understand and relate to her, while desperately willing her to believe something that we ourselves wouldn’t, were it not for our omniscience. Demi Moore’s sustained believability in the film was a major factor in its success. As Molly, Rebecca Trehearn is more than equal to Clarke’s Sam in voice and presence, and faced with this harder task of embodying naturalism within an unnatural framework, she does a strong job of this, even if the libretto does its best to force her into some schmaltzy situations.

The musical precedent most readily called to mind is Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel, a classic of the genre in which the leading man dies and and is given a chance to return and “put things right” with his wife. Like Ghost, Carousel ends upon a moment of resolution, the spirit of the dead man telling his wife that he always loved her. Unlike Ghost, Carousel covers a lot more ground in the run-up, with the man’s death not occurring until midway through the second act, after a great deal of plot and character development. Ghost may benefit from the considerable dramatic potential of Sam’s urgent need to tell Molly of impending danger, but Carousel has the edge on poignancy. Sam’s death happens too early on, and we spend the subsequent ninety minutes discovering why that death should have affected us.

Moving the pottery wheel scene so that it takes place after Sam’s demise is the sort of experimental change for which this Matthew Warchus’ adaptation should be commended, but perhaps the unique success of the film proves that some things are better left untouched.


M. F. Jones

Matthew trained with the National Youth Music Theatre (2002-3), and graduated from Oxford University in 2007 with a joint honours degree in Classics and English. He is best known as one half of Frisky and Mannish, cabaret double-act and "global phenomenon" (The Times). The duo have performed at Sydney Opera House and Shepherd's Bush Empire, appeared on BBC2 and Radio 1, and enjoyed four sell-out shows at the Edinburgh Fringe. As an actor, he played the lead role in Steven Bloomer's Punch at the Edinburgh Fringe 2012. Other credits include: Oklahoma! (Sadler's Wells), The Threepenny Opera (Oxford Playhouse) and The Secret Garden (King's Head). He also works as a writer and composer

Ghost – The Musical Show Info

Directed by Matthew Warchus

Written by Bruce Joel Rubin, Dave Stewart and Glen Ballard

Cast includes Keisha Atwell, Wendy Mae Brown, Stewart Clarke, Ivan De Freitas, Stevie Hutchinson, David Roberts, Rebecca Trehearn, Karlene Wray




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