On paper, a stage adaptation of a film about a ghost who can walk through doors shouldn’t work. But the show that opened last night at the Piccadilly theatre defies all expectations.
If the story’s ghostly tricks were not enough of a hurdle, the show has something else to overcome: the ghost of the hit 1990 film upon which it is based. Demi Moore, Patrick Swayze and Whoopi Goldberg starred in the celluloid story of a young couple, Molly and Sam, whose life together is destroyed when Sam is murdered. With the help of psychic Oda Mae Brown, Sam attempts to communicate with Molly in order to save her from his murderer.
For its musical version, director Matthew Warchus drafted in the film’s writer, Bruce Joel Rubin, to adapt his story for the stage, and it is this, more than anything, that makes Ghost The Musical not just another run-of-the-mill film-to-stage adaptation. The story – of love and loss – remains at the heart of the piece, and for all its trickery, humour and flashy graphics the stage show has the ability to move us to tears, perhaps even more than the original film.
A large part of this is due to the stunning illusions by Paul Kieve which make Sam’s ghost rise from his living body, items of furniture move by themselves and bad spirits be transported to hell in a flurry of red wrath. Spine-tingling to watch, the illusions are nevertheless subtle and never too showy; used only when necessary to the story, they are thoroughly believable.
Director Warchus and designer Rob Howell have created a dark, brooding New York backdrop to the story, with superb graphics by Jon Driscoll to conjure the scenes on the subway when Sam encounters another, rather more aggressive, ghost. There are subtle indicators of the early ‘90s setting: this is a world of yuppie stockbrokers, where contacts are kept in an address book rather than a mobile phone.
While not overly memorable, the music – written by Dave Stewart of The Eurythmics along with regular collaborator Glen Ballard – helps to move the story along and express the feelings of Sam and Molly. Of individual numbers, Oda Mae Brown’s triumphant I’m Outta Here grabs the limelight, however this is not a show for flashy tunes. Even Unchained Melody, the tune most associated with the film, is dealt with in a low-key manner, complementing but not dominating the score.
But what of the performances? A dashing Richard Fleeshman and American actress Caissie Levy manage to shake the shadows of Swayze and Moore to make the roles of Sam and Molly entirely their own. Their love story is well depicted and truly moving, and they handle the famous potter’s wheel scene deftly. Andrew Langtree also excels as friend-turned-foe Carl, the perfect example of a money-obsessed yuppie. Sharon D Clarke has perhaps the most difficult role in erasing the distinctive memory of Goldberg as Oda Mae Brown. Though, for me, she doesn’t quite manage it, her vocals are superb and she brings a hefty dose of humour to balance out the sadness of the love story.
In fact, ‘well-balanced’ is a phrase that aptly sums up the musical as a whole. Moving but not maudlin, funny but not crass, impressive but not too showy, Ghost The Musical is a perfectly judged piece of musical theatre which deserves its place in the West End.