Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Ghost - can the perfect couple and a phony psychic bring the familiar film to life? (Grand Opera House until 16 April)

Based on the 1990 romantic film, the musical theatre version of Ghost sees lovey-dovey Molly and Sam, a ceramics artist and a banker, in their Brooklyn loft apartment. Returning home from an exhibition launch, Sam is killed and is trapped between his old life and the afterlife. Able to move around but unable to be heard or seen, how can he protect his beloved Molly from the jeopardy she doesn’t know he is in?

Rebecca Lowings and Niall Sheehy are strong leads, establishing the affection between Molly and Sam through touch and gesture if not words. Their duets are rich and warm. Lowings’ rendition of With You is stripped back and haunting. There’s a bare male chest or two, but the pottery-wheel scene is not overegged and (strangely) isn’t allowed to become a pivotal moment in the musical.

Very controlled spotlighting neatly differentiates between the unlit ghosts and the still-alive characters. Sam’s killing and walking away from his corpse is a well-executed illusion, followed up with a couple of other nice moments (particularly the gun in the air in the second half). I’m not so convinced about Sam’s ability to be heard through an intercom!

Jacqui Dubois’ phony psychic with her sham palmistry injected energy into the atmosphere of grief and treacherous embezzlement. Lovonne Richards’ subway ghost certainly has stage presence and delivers a superb piece of performance poetry as well as beautifully-choreographed scenes of telekinesis. Much of the ensemble’s office environment dance routines oddly reminded me of the fantasy con sequences in TV series Hustle.

Mark Bailey’s set is busy, but the layers work well, it facilitates very fast scene changes, and its ability to suck the freshly dead into hell impressed and amused.

While technically well-executed, Ghost doesn’t move from screen to stage with the same sparkle as other recent touring productions like Shrek and Legally Blonde.

As a musical, Unchained Melody stands out above all the other songs – its final reprise is the most electrifying – while the remainder of the music alternates between soft ballads and big gospel sound numbers. Last night’s performance was let down by what may just be a first-show-in-a-new-venue problem with the sound balance: sitting in the stalls, at its loudest moments, the seven-piece band drowned out the cast’s vocals in the mix.

If you’ve a strong emotional connection with the Patrick Swayze/Demi Moore/Whoopi Goldberg film, then like a friend further down my row, you may blub your way through the first half, never mind the ultimate finale.

However, as someone who is often moved to tears in the cinema or theatre at the drop of a hat, Ghost’s ending is underwhelming, sapped of energy, neither squeezing out every last ounce of emotion nor swinging back with a big musical number to finish on a high note. Audience members in the rows in front of me had begun checking their mobile phones for messages before Sam had even said his farewells, though these same people then rose to their feet to applaud the cast.

Ghost continues in the Grand Opera House until Saturday 16 April.

Photo credit: Pamela Raith