Ghost the Musical
Bruce Joel Rubin, based on his script for the film with music and lyrics by Dave Stewart and Glenn Ballard
The Palace, Manchester
The success of the movie Ghost was largely due to audience reaction and word of mouth rather than the initial lukewarm response of the critics. The revamped version of Ghost the Musical is careful to offer audiences scenes from the movie with which they are familiar although perhaps not in the expected format.
Financier Sam (Niall Sheehy) and sculptor Molly (Rebekah Lowings) live in unwedded bliss but Molly conceals her resentment that Sam is unable to articulate his love. An argument is interrupted when Sam is killed in an apparently senseless mugging. However, Sam, in the form of a ghost, discovers his death was part of a wider fraud conspiracy and that Molly is also in danger. With few options, Sam is forced to rely on charlatan spiritualist Oda Mae Brown (Jacqui Dubois) to warn Molly.
The story for Ghost the Musical has been updated from 1990 to take place after the fall of the Twin Towers in New York with, among other things, a rapping ghost haunting the subways. Yet the plot and the motivation of the villain remains very much stuck in the ‘greed is good’ period.
The songs are an odd mixture of straightforward pop mixed with the occasional number (presumably contributed by author Bruce Joel Rubin rather than by Dave Stewart and Glenn Ballard) in which the lyrics amount to little more than dialogue set to music. The score is pretty much entirely power pop; while accepting all involved may have been intimidated by the inclusion of the classic Unchained Melody in the show, it seems a wasted opportunity that the theme of love and loss is not reflected in an original ballad.
Ah yes, that song. Director Bob Tomson is a terrible tease with Unchained Melody featuring three times: initially as a comedy number with Niall Sheehy singing a goofy parody vocal, briefly playing in the background as in the movie and finally as a passionate duet between Sheehy and Lowings. It is an approach likely to frustrate as much as delight fans of the movie. Tomson gives a slick, fast-paced show with rapid, seamless scene changes creating a cinematic mood. There is, however, a lack of tension—it is hard to believe Molly is ever really in danger—and of satisfaction at the villains getting their comeuppance.
Richard Pinner’s illusions are downplayed with characters seeming to run from their discarded bodies after death, a train with walls that turns transparent and Niall Sheehy levitating when attacked by a fellow ghost.
Jacqui Dubois clearly welcomes the opportunity offered by the stage to cut loose and re-create Oda Mae Brown as an eccentric and completely successful comic character. Yet apart from Dubois, the success of the revamped version of Ghost the Musical can be attributed to the determination of the cast to play the musical dead straight. The waif-like figure of Rebekah Lowings is very much someone consumed by grief and Niall Sheehy is completely convincing as a decent person haunted by his mistakes and his loss.
The updates to the storyline may not be completely successful but the dedication and vocal prowess of the cast ensure the revamped Ghost the Musical remains a crowd-pleaser.