Chris Eldon Lee reviews ‘Ghost : The Musical’ which is at Wolverhampton Grand Theatre until June 15th 2013.
This has to be the best modern musical of the Millennium.
To resurrect the 1990 movie “Ghost” as a full-scale stage musical is a risky but brilliant idea. In an era when theatre companies take film titles and produce rather diluted stage versions to keep the box office busy, I can honestly say the stage presentation of “Ghost” flies higher and faster than the film – excellent as the movie is.
The special effects alone are quite stunning. Seeing an actor pass through a door on screen is only to be expected in these CGI days, but to pull the same stunt on stage is quite wondrous.
If the ensemble will excuse me, I’ll talk about the technology first. The highly experienced Hugh Vanstone and Tim Lutkin have skilfully created superbly dark and spooky lighting conditions for illusionist Paul Kieve to work his magic. We see levitation and poltergeist activity before our very eyes. Slain actors leave their bodies and impossibly re-appear elsewhere on stage within an instant – and you can hear the audience gasps. Altogether, the challenge of putting ‘mortals through portals’ is handled exceptionally well.
The other genius at work is the video and projection designer Jon Driscoll. He creates panning 3D city skylines and a hugely convincing subway train, which we see from all angles, in which actors are violently thrown about, just as in the film – but ‘live’.
Ashley Wallen’s full-on choreography is utterly inventive, frantic and strident and the technology had dancers dancing to the projected ghosts of their own movements. It’s all terribly, terribly slick…and expertly pulled together by director Matthew Warchus whose other current show is ‘Matilda’ in the West End. I came away feeling I’d been riding on a giant high-tech ghost train – an explosive concoction of pop video, Dr. Who effects and London 2012 Ceremony spectacle.
Into this we must insert the humans. The show has been recast for the tour and performers who’ve served their time as understudies are rightly given their head. Judging by the national reviews, the leads at Wolverhampton are better than the originals. Stewart Clarke as ghostly Sam and Rebecca Trehearn as Molly give wholly convincing and naturalistic performances; the still quiet centre of the wiz-bang production. Their singing is easy and relaxed. The key relationship moments in the film (e.g. ‘ditto’ and the potter’s wheel) are carefully played with respectful restraint; yet the sexual and tragic tensions they create together are truly heart wrenching.
Then, in true pantomime tradition, the ‘Dame’ comes on and completely upstages the Principle Boy and Girl. Wendy Mae Brown is a hoot as the sassy psychic who turns out to be worryingly better than she thinks she is. It’s a glorious part and she capitalises on the comic jewels it offers. No one can flutter her eyelashes better. But despite the send up, the themes of mediumistic contact and the afterlife are treated with reverence.
If there is a weakness, it’s the songs. They are strong and powerful and seemed fine at the time. But they don’t quite pass the ‘Old Grey Whistle Test’. I’m old and grey and next morning I couldn’t whistle any of them. This would be pretty serious in any other musical but there is so much going on in ‘Ghost’ it’s okay for the melodies to be just another part of the jigsaw. Through let me stress the company and band made a cracking job of them. Steve Hutchinson’s rapping subway ghost was a particular highlight.
‘Ghost : The Musical’ is a landmark moment in theatre history. Only now do we have the electrical intelligence to create such a live show – and future theatrical advances will owe it a great deal.
Visit www.grandtheatre.info for bookings & information about Wolverhampton’s Grand Theatre