Ghost: The Musical is an exemplar of a trend to turn well-known titles into staged versions and add singing and dancing. The problem is that, unlike the works of Rodgers and Hammerstein, Lerner and Loewe, Stephen Sondheim and his collaborators, it doesn’t feel as if there was any compelling creative reason driving the team to do so beyond “name recognition” that will put “bums on seats”. The musical aspect of this one is sheer filler. I like the fantasy movie Ghost quite a lot and reckon that Whoopi Goldberg deserved her Best Supporting Actress awards for it. Here the attempt is not to take the material into a new place and render it original through the music, but to make you spend an evening remembering the original film, to make it feel and look as much like the original movie as possible.
This trend also tends to infect revivals of musicals such as The Sound of Music that, more often than not, don’t look for a new insight but for a clone of the Julie Andrews/Robert Wise interpretations. (Why it never occurs to anyone to clone the original Mary Martin performance, in that case, I wonder. You can hear it on the Original Broadway Cast recording.)
Thus Ghost: The musical I saw the touring production in Oxford (where you can still catch it until 8 March) and, despite my carping, there is much that I would like to praise. The stagecraft recreating the ghosts walking through solid doors, flying, spinning around and flipping about, appearing and disappearing, is really rather engaging and rather like attending a magic show where you wonder constantly how it was done. It’s good theatre, that aspect. The use of projections to create a mobile New York cityscape is among the best I have ever seen, better and smoother even than The Woman in White of unlamented memory. Technically this is superb stuff.
And the performers deserve praise. Wendy Mae Brown in the Whoopi Goldber part just about steals the show – as that part should – and has a wonderful ability to captivate the audience. Stewart Clarke, who is a recent graduate from Warwick University, looks like a star in the making with movie actor good looks, a fine voice and a real ability to dance. David Roberts is a convincing and hissable villain; and Stevie Hutchinson is brilliant as a subway ghost who can practically stand on one finger and do endless flips and flops when he wants to as well as fly like Peter Pan. What’s not to praise?
But what’s good about the show is what’s good about the film – a strong story you can follow, some touching sentiment, memorable special effects, a playfulness that charms.
The problem is that the musical aspect adds nothing. The best song in the show is still the “Unchained” Melody (“Oh, my love, my darling, I’ve hungered for your touch a long lonely time …”) that comes from a 1950s Hollywood prison movie. The rest of the music (though not its staging) is instantly forgettable, though performed with real energy and commitment by the young and accomplished cast. I hated the overhyped amplification for voices that really didn’t need it; and the reedy, nasal style of projection of voices that seems to be the Andrew Lloyd Webber stle of singing songs and uses voices without any chest register or variation of timbre, but let that pass. All in all, Ghost: The Musical is quite a passable effort if you want to see the story of the original film acted out live, on stage and if you can ignore some of the more banal numbers and just enjoy the energy of the cast and the cleverness of the staging.
But I came out wondering what the effort was for and why all that energy couldn’t have been used on something more original. And definitely wanting to see the movie again.
My final advice is to buy the DVD. For £3.25 on Amazon or £7.25 for the BluRay. It’s cheaper than the cheapest ticket, a more coherent experience, has an Oscar winning performance in it, and you get to keep it forever. I do wish that people would start adapting material because they had something to add with the music, something to enhance and uplift the story and have music that carries emotion instead of diluting the impact of the original and convincing you it’s stage magic because they can find equivalent special effects to the ones in the film.
That said, there is nothing wrong with going to see it for the staging and the performances, especially those of Stevie Hutchinson, Stewart Clarke, and the utterly captivating Wendy Mae Brown.
One thing that does justify these shows is that they give the next generation of performers some real experience in front of live and demanding audiences and exposure to the public. And in this show, the performers, surrounded by excellent and professional staging, certainly come up trumps.