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Ghost team reflect on magical journey

Published July 20, 2011

After a long period of development, Ghost The Musical finally made its West End debut last night at the Piccadilly theatre. “I’ve just released a solo album and I made it in five days in Nashville, and Ghost was five years!” said co-composer Dave Stewart, “It’s a very complex ride.”

The musician and his fellow composer Glen Ballard were on hand to celebrate with the rest of the creative team and cast at the opening night after party, when they reflected on the journey that has brought the story known for the 1990 hit film to the West End. The film’s writer, Bruce Joel Rubin, who was tasked with adapting his story for the stage, praised the freedom he was given by the show’s director Matthew Warchus. “I had a real say in the movie and I was given that again in the musical. I’ve never had that again in film ever, but in musicals the writer still has a voice and it’s really wonderful to be able to express it.”

The writer, whose work as a screenwriter includes Jacob’s Ladder, The Time Traveller’s Wife and Deep Impact, embarked on his first foray into musical theatre with Ghost. “So many of the films that are turned into musicals, there’s a money-making scheme behind it. I didn’t want that. Either we made a great piece of theatre or I didn’t want to be involved. And all the people on board had that same feeling and we did not take advantage of something that was easy to sell, we took that story and turned it into something even better.”

Stewart, best-known for his work with Annie Lennox in The Eurythmics, had previously “dipped his toe” into musical theatre with a piece produced in Vienna. “Word got out,” he said, “so they [the Ghost producers] approached me five years ago and I said I would do it if I could write with the original screenplay writer Bruce Joel Rubin.”

For cast member Sharon D Clarke, who plays eccentric psychic Oda Mae Brown, the collaboration paid off. “We were very lucky in that we have a phenomenal book. Sometimes you do some musical theatre and you have great music but you don’t have the strong book. But to have fantastic music and a really strong book that reaches out and touches people, a story that people know well, it’s a no brainer.”

Another person for whom the show has been a long journey is Andrew Langtree, who plays the villain of the piece, Carl, and participated in the original workshops for the show. “It’s been a three year journey for me and to see it come to fruition tonight is just fantastic.”

For all of the cast, one of the main challenges was to master the technical aspects of the show set out by illusionist Paul Kieve, whose magical effects make the ghosts in the story rise from dead bodies, walk through doors and ascend to heaven or hell. “Paul is a genius at slight of hand,” said Langtree, “and once somebody that experienced takes you through things step by step it’s not that difficult. To see it all from backstage happening, it’s hilarious, you think ‘No, people can’t be buying this!’ Then in the tech rehearsals we got to see it from out front and it’s phenomenal; it’s mind boggling.”

“He’s very patient and kind in teaching us the methods and how to go there,” added Caissie Levy, who plays leading lady Molly. “It’s been really, really fascinating to learn how slight these things are but what a giant impact they have on the audience and the story. Things have gone wrong. It’s such a precise art that if you’re not on the spot you should be by a centimetre then it’s ruined. But because you’ve had the chance to fine-tune it so much, generally it works.”

For Levy, Clarke and Richard Fleeshman, who plays Sam, another challenge was making the roles their own 20 years after Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore and Whoopi Goldberg made the characters famous on screen. “I think that was the goal from the beginning with the creative team,” said Levy. “They really stressed that this was its own entity; we’re not turning the film into a musical, we’re turning the story into a musical, so we approached everything with fresh eyes and I think it’s made a huge difference.”

“I think we all wanted to put our own stamp on it,” added Clarke. “Musical theatre is my home, it’s what I love doing, so for me, you get the script and you start fresh and you just go with your own character. And having not looked at the film on purpose, you don’t have any of that in the back of your head.”

The actress, who has previously starred in blockbuster musicals including We Will Rock You, stressed how much she was enjoying being back in musical theatre. “It’s one of the reasons I left Holby,” she says of the television drama Holby City that she appeared in for three years. “I just thought, I need to be singing again.”

Her enthusiasm for the artform seems to have rubbed off on Stewart, who told Official London Theatre he now has three other musical theatre projects in the pipeline. One is based on a graphic novel he has written in the vein of Rocky Horror, another tells the story of London’s first Italian coffee shop – “it’s where the birth of many things happened” – while the third, Eurythmics fans will be pleased to hear, will be based on the songs he wrote with Lennox, specifically “certain kind of melancholic Eurythmics songs, unrequited love.”

For Rubin, however, Ghost The Musical may be his first and last musical theatre project. “I am done with projects!” he said. “I’ve done one musical now which is amazing but it took me five and a half years. I’m getting old! I don’t know how many more of those things are in me. I’m very happy to have this.”

CB

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