Ghost The Musical, Theatre Review
By Conor O’Neill
Ghost was 1990’s highest grossing film. The solid plot and great soundtrack undoubtedly being the main reasons for its success. It was first transferred to the stage as a musical in 2011. Original writer, Bruce Joel Rubin, teamed up with Dave Stewart and Glen Ballard to create an immediate West End and Broadway smash.
History lesson over, you’ll be delighted to know that the travelling West End’s 2019 production is as universally sound as the original movie version. Love, death, greed, corruption, threat, humour, redemption and justice all play their part.
Those of a certain age will have the plot, the characters and the iconic Unchanged Melody forever burnt into their memories. A packed Belfast’s Grand Opera House loved every minute of it.
The plot goes something like this: up-and-coming banker, Sam, and his artsy girlfriend, Molly, are moving into their Brooklyn studio-type apartment. Sam’s pal, Carl, who can only see dollar signs, seems to be no more malignant than a cash-crazy yuppie so typical of the mid to late 80s. Sam, to begin with is something of a ‘live and let live’ sort of fella; happy to please both his girl and humour his buddy. Things however don’t always work out that way.
You’ll be pleased to know director, Bob Tomson, has employed a seven piece band to sooth, spank and rock your soul. One minute it’s a ballad with violin, cello and keys tugging at your very fibre, next it’s all waccca-wacca wah-wah guitar-laden, gospel-fused funk enthusing every muscle to get off your seat and ‘shake it like a polaroid picture’.
Back to the plot: it’s not those under the stage with musical capabilities. As the apartment gets furnished, mostly with artsy type of Molly’s artefacts, Sam’s only input seems to be his beloved Barbarossa poster and acoustic guitar. A snarling yet tender, knowingly Elvis-like impression of Unchanged Melody shows actor, Niall Sheehy, can not only sing but knows his way round the frets too.
Emotionally stunted and with deals to be done, Sam moves his way through million dollar off-shore accounts and hipster art exhibitions with a shrugged-shoulder apathy we all wish we could relax in to.
Molly only wants to hear Three Little Words. Rebekah Lowings is adorable. Ambition, doubtful, fun, creative and fragile. For such a tiny woman she’s got lungs like hot-air balloons with vocal cords to match.
Sergio Pasquariello’s Carl really gets the show moving when he and the 11-strong ensemble sing More, a subway set scene of song and dance routine rejoicing in the power of the dollar and mankind’s unfortunate and fatal love affair with power. Sam doesn’t quite realise life until it’s gone. All deep and dark up until now.
I did mention comedy in the opening paragraph; well, fear ye not because while the origins of the piece were being set down, hilarity was always brewing.
Firstly we have Mr Hospital Ghost (James Earl Adair) . A tinkled little bluesy/jazz number, You Gotta Let Go Now is Sam’s entry into the after-life. You can almost see and smell the plumes of smoke rising in a squat little jazz club somewhere in Harlem.
And then, the seismic continental-quashing wonder that is the Gawd-believing psychic, money-loving woman – of many identities – that is Oda Mae (Whoopi Goldberg to you and I who have only seen the movie).
Jacqui Dubois is simply stunning. Every utterance, every ‘uhh uhh’ is packed with contempt and a confidence that charm each and all from the stalls to the Gods. Are You A Believer? Is a bit rich from this lady. George Clinton and James Brown don’t have a hope when the band strikes up and Oda, Clara (Chanelle Anthony), Louise (Jochebel Ohene MacCarthy) and company light the fuse.
65 minutes and a 20 minute break is needed by both audience and cast.
Money is to be wired, Sam’s trying to save Molly from trigger man Willie (Jules Brown) as Carl’s worries grow and grow. As with many musicals, often looked down upon from those of the ‘greater arts’, side players can make or brake a show. Subway ghost, aka Orlando, (Lovonne Zeus Richards) is one of these actors fulfilling a fantastic role. He doesn’t sing, but with Jack Kerouac beat-style soliloquies advises Sam on how to get forward through the rhymes of Focus.
The set changes are as frequent as the differing musical genres. There’s little here to argue about. We move from the apartment, to a Wall Street office, the subway, the emergency room, Oda Mae’s psychic reading-room, to a cop shop, then a bank, where if you have to ask the price, you really shouldn’t be there and many more than enough to stir anyone’s pot.
But with all this drama, from gun shots, to 99,000 bottles of beer on the wall, a hitman on the prowl, seduction scenes and the harrowing nightmare that is grief. The only thing that stands tall through it all is a simple message. Love. Acceptance, and moving on.
I’ll not spoil the ending. It’s not what I can remember from watching the film. If anything, this is better. Doubly as clever and more poignant.
Choreography by Alastair David, set and costume by Mark Bailey, sound – especially during Orlando’s scenes and extraordinary lighting giving the GOH an ethereally magical feel, highlighted at the end by Nick Richings will amaze and daze.
Standing ovations. In and out in two and a half hours. You must see this.
Ghost The Musical runs until Saturday, April 13. Matinees are on Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday. Tickets are apparently moving fast. To book yours visit http://www.goh.co.uk or phone the box office on 02890241919