Spectacular night of musical magic

Till death do them part: Sam and Molly, Stewart Clarke and Rebecca Trehearn. Pictures: Sean Ebsworth Barnes

Wendy Mae Brown & Cast of Ghost The Musical - Photo Credit Sean Ebsworth Barnes

Ghost

Wolverhampton Grand

*****

THIS is a show worth five stars for the special effects alone with a heady mix of theatre, cinema, video game and illusionist with just a hint of the old fashioned three card trick to baffle a near full house.

Three times we had killings and far from keeping body and soul together this is a show which rips them apart – and I defy anyone to say they saw how that little trick is done. We have a struggle or a car crash and end up with a dead body for all to see – except we also have the singin' dancin' and usually moanin' version as well – usually claiming it was not their time. Read the script pal, that's all I can say. You're dead.

We all know it is a trick, slight of hand, or actor in this case, but it is still pretty clever. Equally impressive is Sam walking through a fairly solid looking door while the Subway Ghost manages to make other passengers, suitcases and all manner of things fly through the air at will.

Equally clever is a main set comprising of walls of video screens which rise and fall into the flies  mixed with real scenery – allowing some easy but very effective trickery. There is also a huge invisible screen across the whole front of the stage allowing even more illusion.

Backstage must look like the bridge of the Starship Enterprise with an army of technicians controlling seven LED video walls, five miles of cable and scenery gliding in and out on tracks - the whole show arrives in 10 artics.

An unchained melody between Sam and Molly

The result is a sensory spectacular which takes theatre to a new level – which, paradoxically, could also sow the seeds of a dangerous new trend, but more of that later.

Behind all that is actually a musical which is not half bad. The seven piece band, under MD David Rose. do a fabulous job in moving everything along and although the show has no showstoppers Dave Stewart, of Eurythmics fame, and six-time Grammie winner Glen Ballard, who produced the words and music, have a couple of numbers worth a mention.

Both incidentally are fine ballads sung by Molly, played by Rebecca Trehearn, who has a lovely voice; With You and Nothing Stops Another Day deserve to find a life beyond ghost.

The story is simple. Molly, a potter,  and Sam, a banker, have just moved into a New York apartment and just as they are about to tie the knot and live happily ever after Sam, played by Solihull's  Stewart Clarke is killed in what appears to be a random mugging gone bad.

But Sam, or at least his ghost, is left in limbo and finds that not only was he deliberately targeted but now Molly is also in mortal danger. He is desperate to help and protect her except no one can see of hear him – until he runs into charlatan, con woman, trickster and fraudster Oda Mae Brown, who is running a clairvoyant scam until Sam turns up and she discovers she really does have the gift.

Oda Mae Brown is played by Wendy Mae Brown – coincidence or what. This is the role played by Whoopi Goldberg in the 1990 film and she fills the stage with fun, life, very loud one liners and a huge voice in a glorious performance.

Like Clarke, David Roberts, who plays the baddy, fellow banker Clive Bruner, has a fine voice and in truth the two are both so clean cut, all-American they could be almost interchangeable which is perhaps what makes Bruner such a good baddie.

Ivan De Freitas gives us an easier bad boy with mugger and hit man for hire Willie Lopez – no surprise when he gets the red light naughty boy welcome and fast track to Hades central when he passes over to the other side. In the old cowboy films it was white and black hats that distinguished goodies and baddies. Here it is red lights and a vortex with associated screams or pretty white lights and gentle music for the good guys.

Stevie Hutchinson is another kettle of fish, or spirit in this case, as the Subway Ghost who was helped on his way from living to dead by being pushed off the platform. He is a real angry young man full of angst and athleticism – that boy is fit I tell you – but under that hard exterior is a soft(ish) centre and he gives Sam lessons in sticking the boot in – not easy when the boot flies through anything solid without leaving a mark.

Subway gives him the secret of moving objects from papers to people.

The overwhelming memory of the film is the scene on the potter's wheel to The Righteous Brothers Unchained Melody. The film's main theme is still used but not with the same prominence although we do get yet another marvellous trick involving Oda Mae, Sam and Molly in the feel good finale to the old hit.

Wendy Mae Brown  belts it out as Oda Mae Brown with her assistants Clara, played by Karlene Wray and Louise, Keisha Atwell

All of this is supported by an excellent ensemble in a fine cast of 22 who produce some very precise routines.

Matthew Warchus has done a fine job of pulling in a lot of different strands as the director aided by Ashley Wallen's slick choreography but then we just have to marvel at the work of designer Rob Howell and Video and Projection Designer Jon Driscoll along with Hugh Vanstone and Tim Lutkin's quality lighting.

Pride of place though goes to illusionist Paul Kieve, a regular at the RSC and National and, not surprisingly, a gold star member of the Inner Magic Circle. To create magic on that scale for that many people night after night is the greatest trick of them all.

It is spectacular, fascinating, mesmerising and beyond the trickery and effects a more than half decent musical.

As for the dangers. This opens up a new world of theatre just as computer graphics opened up a new chapter in cinema and perhaps too many films were produced using more and more advanced effects where style had taken over from substance.

Theatre needs to remember that graphics, video and illusion are just a new way, albeit exciting, of telling the story – there still has to be a story and it still has to be told.

Ghost, thankfully, has not fallen into that trap. It is a most enjoyable musical in its own right enhanced by effects which lift it from the good to the truly exceptional. To 15-06-13.

Roger Clarke 

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