Ghost the musical

August 29, 2011 § Leave a comment

Maybe you’re already a fan of the 1990 film, or maybe you were too busy watching something else. Either way, you can now experience this “ timeless romance about the power of love” afresh, as Ghost rises from the dead once more, reanimated as a stage musical with lots of schmaltzy songs and enough cheese to feed Switzerland for a year.

The story concerns two young lovers, Sam and Molly, who move into a New York apartment together. Molly is an artist, sculptor and potter, and wears dungarees, while Sam is a Wall Street trader and all-round beefcake. To show off the fact that he is a beefcake, he wears a tight vest a lot — the first of many clichés. In fact, on the night I saw him, he seemed to get in quite a tangle trying to put his shirt on, which suggested that this particular pumped-up gym bunny may not be the sharpest whiz-kid on Wall Street. And when a mysterious surplus of $ 10m turns up in his bank account, you very much doubt he’s earned it himself by a brilliant use of mezzanine debt to finance a leveraged corporate buyout. Or whatever.
In fact, you can spot the bad guy of the piece considerably earlier than you can in a Famous Five novel — and he’s not even a funny foreign-looking fellow. Soon, the bad guy is arranging for Sam to be mugged in order to get hold of some security codes, but the mugger he employs is a vicious Puerto Rican hoodlum called Willie Lopez ( and a funny foreign-looking fellow — I was getting worried they had quite died out).
The mugging goes horribly wrong and Sam is killed. But that’s not the end. Sam arises from his own corpse as a ghost, and the musical itself stretches away into eternity — well, nearly three hours, anyway. Sam cannot be heard or seen by his distraught and bereaved beloved, so how can he communicate his love to her from beyond the grave? At the heart of this melodramatic story is the old idea that ghosts are the souls of those who linger on earth because they have unfinished business here. With Molly in terrible danger, how can Sam the ghost save her from the villains?
can also play the guitar and do a pleasing Elvis impression, while Levy handles the notoriously Freudian pottery scene without bursting into giggles at the recollection of the French and Saunders parody.
Just when you’re preparing for a weepie, the afterlife turns out to be a kind of limp comedy featuring an ageing tap dancer in a loud check suit. The mixed tone here is confusing. Then Sam latches onto a bogus psychic called Oda Mae Brown. In a nice twist, the spurious spiritualist discovers that, in fact, she has the gift after all and can hear Sam loud and clear. Thereafter, it’s up to her to foil the baddies. As Oda Mae, has an absolute blast and is very soon established as the colourful heart of the show. She also has by far the best song, a stomping bit of disco triumphalism in the I Will Survive mould, called I’m Outta Here! “ I’m outta here, I’m off to the Bahamas / I’m outta here, gonna pack my pink pyjamas!”
Apart from this glorious set piece, the music of Dave Stewart and Glen Ballard is serviceable, but hardly memorable. There’s a touch of funk, a bit of 1980s-style power ballad, some metal. The only other high point musically is a nice, soft, melancholy pop song, Suspend My Disbelief, sung by Molly, which is rather moving.
Matthew Warchus’s direction and staging are always lively, with banks of bright lights and a bigstage energy evoking the feel of Wall Street in the early 1990s, and some terrific illusions and conjuring tricks from Paul Kieve. Sam passes through a solid door right before our eyes — but later, he has to learn how to move things around, like a poltergeist.

You can get in quite a muddle trying to work out the science of all this. He can walk through doors because he is immaterial. Okay. So presumably he doesn’t fall through the floor as well because he isn’t subject to the force of gravity? The great question, though, is why his clothes don’t fall off him? If he’s immaterial, there is nothing to prevent them just dropping to the floor. All very worrying. In fact, if the principles of electromagnetic attraction and repulsion are to be properly observed here, Fleeshman ought to play the part of the ghost entirely naked — which would satisfy the demands of both Coulomb’s law and the hen parties from Essex. And how often can a musical do that?

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