A show to raise the spirits

Rebecca Trehearn pottering away as Molly with soulmate Sam played by Stewart Clarke

Ghost - The Musical

New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham

*****

FEW would have imagined that Jerry Zucker’s heartwarming, 1990 movie Ghost would emerge 21 years later as an all singing, all dancing slice of musical theatre.

Thanks to a clever adaptation by its original writer, Bruce Joel Rubins and an edgy, pulsating score by ex-Eurythmics’ frontman, Dave Stewart, the transition is mostly a smooth one.

The movie made stars of its two leads , Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze, and gave a perfect vehicle to the comic talents of one Whoopi Goldberg. It also sparked a surge in people enrolling for pottery classes as well as putting Unchained Melody back in the charts.

Director Matthew Warchus combines fast moving, technical wizardry with tender, stiller moments to powerful effect and the central poignancy of the story is never lost. The visuals are, at times, breathtaking; New York dazzles on back projected screens; underground trains thunder across the stage; slick, corporate bank offices look out onto a dazzling vista of the Big Apple at night. It’s a riot of computer generated graphics that give the piece a music video feel on occasion. No bad thing, as long as the human element plays in synch alongside it. In this instance, it does.

The themes here are an interesting mix. Love, death and betrayal run alongside the supernatural and deceit. Tender, sensual moments are mixed with gutsy humour and scenes of real tension. Punctuating this are slick, almost robotic, dance routines that work well in such a corporate context. Dance works best if it is choreographed to fit within a scene rather than just be plonked around it for no apparent reason. In this case, the dance augments the scene and is a joy to watch.

Though slightly stripped down of the special effects used in the West End version, there are still some extraordinary magical illusions here. People seemingly walking through doors, train passengers floating in slow motion, spirits rising to heaven and one quite stunning effect at the end of the show that is almost worth the ticket price alone. It’s one thing to achieve such clever illusion in a film, quite another to recreate it live onstage.

Stewart Clarke gives a compelling performance as Sam, combining brooding with sensitive to great effect. Rebecca Trehearn plays his devoted soul mate, Molly with warmth and sincerity though at times her high notes were a little pitchy. David Roberts is suitably crawly as the Judas in the pack, Carl, but it’s Wendy Mae Brown, as the Psychic Oda Mae Brown who threatens to steal the show with a blistering, committed and rumbustious performance.

At its best , on numbers such as Here Right Now, Three Little Words, Suspend My Disbelief and Talkin’ Bout A Miracle the score is either gloriously uplifting and exciting or sweetly melancholic. Just occasionally though, it seems to run out of ideas and becomes a little clumsy.

Don’t worry. The iconic pottery wheel scene is still there. However much technical jiggery pokery is used, some things just can’t be left out...

You will gasp. You will laugh. You will cry. You will also be so glad you went.

The West Ends loss is the rest of the country’s gain. Catch it while you can! To 05-12-13.

Tom Roberts

 

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