FringeReview UK 2019
Ghost – still by Bruce Joel Rubin, music and lyrics by Dave Stewart and Glenn Ballard – is revived in its new version under Bob Tomson’s direction and Alistair David’s choreography. Mark Bailey’s masterly set design and Nick Richings’ lighting are completed with Dan Samson’s sound design and music directed by Leigh Thompson, with Rich Morris and Gary Hickeson refining arrangements.
Rather like Unchained Melody, Ghost, The Musical keeps morphing and never ending. It’s been developed since its 2011 premiere – there’s even greater tenderness in the lyrics – though with such powerful storytelling they’re in danger of being swept away. Certainly with terrific performances and all-out loud sonics this production tells you to forget the film.
Bill Kenwright’s production features Mark Bailey’s masterly set that doesn’t shrink much in its touring version, which Brighton’s Theatre Royal heroically copes with. With film-to-theatre transitions, there’s sometimes an obsession with replicating as much of that film as possible in theatre terms.
Bruce Joel Rubin’s 2011 reworking of his original film with Dave Stewart and Glenn Ballard really is a triumph. This production has West End values written all over it, Bob Thomson’s direction, Alistair David’s choreography – busy in ensemble numbers, fined-down for duets.
Some might find the set too busy on this stage. I loved it. A skyline so palpable in Nick Richings’ lighting you can touch it, gets fronted by variable props for a brickish stripped-back Brooklyn interior, svelte office, a transparent train upstage for commuters and ghosts, and flying buttresses of tenements for fateful outdoor encounters. There’s been some subtle updating from 1990, selfies and mobile phones; the story’s otherwise unaltered.
Dan Samson’s sound design really is built for the West End; it thunders under your feet and in the Stalls is quite overwhelming. Heroic as it is for larger theatres, here the delicacy of singing, the Act One trio finale for instance, gets drowned out. The actual music directed by Leigh Thompson, with Rich Morris and Gary Hickeson refining arrangements, is splendid, especially in Act Two where a refined palette and a spectacular visionary hereafter seems more fitted. It’s just a pity we can’t always hear the music – let alone singing – for the sound.
And what singing. Rebekah Lowings’ sensitive, heart-breaking Molly is just one great reason to see this show. Rivalling Demi Moore’s appeal in dialogue and presence, she sings with a fully-developed soprano range. Whether in the duet with Sam ‘Here Right Now’ which leads into his own solo ‘Unchained Melody’, or solos such as ‘With You’ and the Act Two ‘Nothing Stops Another Day’. She’s a new star and on this evidence should be back in the West End.
Niall Sheehy too emerges with a halo from this show. A fine lyric tenor, he really nails ‘Unchained Melody’ and melds effortlessly with Lowings in ‘Here Right Now’ and ‘Three Little Words’ and in his aggy solo to the subway ghost ‘Teach Me How’ wanting to learn how to use the Force. And in his finale ‘I Can’t Take It Anymore’ he rises to a lyric arc that really is affecting.
Sergio Pasquarielllo looks the edgy villain and acts dark with that ambivalence Carl has – he’s not wholly a villain, but has been pushed into the dark by his sidekick and Pasquarielllo revels in this. Pasquarielllo’s singing is fine and in character. Still, in the numbers like ‘More’ he’s accompanied by a busy ensemble (Alistair David’s choreography features several ensembles for office-commuters in the rain) and ‘Life Turns On a Dime’ with Molly and Sam. As he is in the over-amped finale to Act One ‘Suspend My Disbelief/I Had a Life’. Each time we lose a chance for Carl to develop, but this is inherent in the film.
Then there’s what turns this film from a too soulful a journey into one leavened with broad comic strokes. Jacqui Dubois’ Oda Mae is a delight. Already a star she almost steals every show she’s in – Sheehy’s stature is confirmed by being able to match her as the ghostly spotlight falls on him spinning round her like an irritated satellite. Bailey’s fuschia pink and orange costumes reach their pinnacle here. But it’s Dubois’ magnificent vocals which burn the comic ‘Are You a Believer?’ into memory, or her lead in her upbeat valedictory ‘I’m Outta Here’ with Clara and Louise – Jochebel Ohene MacCarthy’s deep voice and Sadie-Jean Shirley’s soprano deserve pointing up too.
Jules Brown as murderer Willie Lopez deploys a baritonal fiendishness that has him joining fiends. And there’s fine work from James Earl Adair, particularly as the Hospital Ghost in ‘You Gotta Let Go Now’, Sam’s first posthumous educator.
His finest though is that disturbed subway avatar Lovonne Richards. He has terrific presence, dominating every scene he’s in, and in his nailing ‘Focus’ as well as his furious burly acting, he triumphs in his charcoal-etched cameo; a man burning in Purgatory.
Small roles like Josh Andrews’ Detective and Samantha Noel’s Officer are nicely taken, and there’s a slew of small parts through Oda Mae’s false then all-too-truthful communings with the dead. In a flood of clients rollicking up dead or alive, Chanelle Anthony as Ortisha enjoys a succession of bewilderments, as does Charlotte-Kate Warren’s Mrs Santiago, Kage Douglas as ghostly Orlando and Michael Ward’s Robert.
It’s Act Two that truly reveals this show’s stature. The songs certainly feel a little more intimate, or fined down; but it’s mainly how the plot’s acceleration gives show opportunities to shape a heart-stopping climax. By the end, with Lowings and Sheehy coming together through Dubois, we’re with them every step to heaven.
You’ll know the film. Despite the volume, you should know this.