Book and lyrics: Bruce Joel Rubin
Music and lyrics: Dave Stewart and Glen Ballard
Director: Matthew Warchus
Reviewer: Edie R
Seven months after being exorcised from the West End to make room for ‘Viva Forever’, ‘Ghost: The Musical’ is back in London. And it’s a bit… insubstantial.
The concept of the story, taken from Jerry Zucker’s Oscar-winning film of the same name, is certainly powerful. Sam (played by Stewart Clarke) and Molly (Rebecca Trehearn) are young and in love; he’s killed in a botched mugging and hangs around as a ghost, trying to contact Molly, solve the crime and save her from his murderer. There are some big, moving universals in there that give the plot a reflex of power, whether on screen or stage. But overall, and despite assistance on the dialogue from the original screenwriter Bruce Joel Rubin, and music and lyrics by Dave Stewart of Eurythmics fame, ‘Ghost: The Musical’ struggles to make the flit from film to theatre.
The problem is mostly one of character development. It’s indispensible to the power of the musical that the audience should care about Sam and Molly’s relationship; but we never really get the chance to grow fond of Clarke and Trehearn. It’s hard to get invested in characters who are “typed” only by their surroundings: Molly’s a potter, therefore we are to assume she’s interestingly bohemian; they have a new house together, therefore are a happy couple. There’s some regulation lovers’ bickering about the colour of the fridge and Sam’s commitment anxieties, some glossy, glossed-over sex – and then he dies.
There are some tender, tear-jerking moments – usually silent ones. A pulse runs through the audience in the moments of quiet after psychic Oda Mae Brown (Wendy Mae Brown) tells Molly that a ghostly Sam is “sitting beside you” or “holding your hand”: yearning for the beloved dead runs deep in most of us. And there’s a rustle of Kleenex whenever the soft notes of “Unchained Melody” flow from the stage – the only really good song in the musical, and unfortunately the one that it can’t be given credit for. But the sadness is generic: individually and as a couple, the lovers are a bit dreary.
The real star of the show is Wendy Mae Brown as raucous, dodgy psychic Oda Mae Brown, who’s running a comfortable line in pseudo-seances until the ghost of Sam bullies her into becoming a real medium, his channel to Molly. Brown in the rôle is vivid, straight-talking and very funny – a dash of colour, figuratively and literally, in her pink sequinned best dress, and a minor miracle in a show that would fall flat without her. I can’t have been alone in thinking that she deserves every dime of the $10 million which she helps Sam swindle from his drug-dealing friend and murderer Carl (David Roberts), and feeling mildly outraged when the prissy hero insists that she gives it to some nuns, who probably won’t put it to nearly such good use.
There’s a fine supporting cast playing ghosts, commuters and bankers: they aren’t given anything very exciting to sing, but get in some cracking dance moves. The orchestra, under David Rose, is likewise fobbed off with a mostly dull score, but comes into its own with the ‘Unchained Melody’ reprises. And illusionist Paul Kieve does a stunning job of the ghost special effects: Sam walks through people, puts his hand through doors, and finally ascends into the stars in a seamless series of visual tricks which alone would make the production worth seeing.
And “Ghost: The Musical” is worth seeing, in the main. It’s a bit airy, a touch transparent. But then, what would you expect of a ghost?