Ghost The Musical at The Playhouse Theatre Edinburgh is one of those productions that, due to the affection in many people’s hearts for the original 1990 movie with Patrick Swayze as Sam and Demi Moore as Molly, is always going to be balancing on that knife edge of adapting the film to a stage musical while retaining enough of the film’s core elements to keep film fans happy. Does “Ghost The Musical” manage this? Well yes and no is probably the answer to that question as the adaptation requirements make straight comparisons difficult.
The very first thing that you notice about this production is how important the song “Unchained Melody” is to the show. So important is identification with the song that the first three lines of it are printed on the stage curtain itself. Originally written by Alex North (music) and Hy Zaret (lyrics) in 1955, the song was used for a little known prison themed move “Unchained”, and has since gone on to become one of the most iconic love songs ever, so its importance in this iconic love story is fitting. This song runs throughout the show – Sam is singing it to Molly in the opening scenes, it is on the radio soon after his death, and of course we have the duet at the end.
Sarah Harding and Andy Moss do a good solid job here in the title roles of Sam and Molly and for the most part do the show’s songs justice. Both however did seem a little out of their vocal ranges at times on some of the songs’ higher registers. Both do well with the dramatic elements of the story too, but somehow that feeling of a great love story that is not ending even in death is not there. For some reason, that so important emotional chemistry between the two of them is not fully formed.
Very quickly into this story, we find out just what a villain of the story Carl (Sam Ferriday) is, and I am giving away no secrets writing that here in this review. Like all villains, Sam’s character is a little more interesting as he gets to explore both the good and bad sides of his character, and this is always more interesting for you to watch on stage. Some very good vocals from Sam here too. There are moments when I thought that Sam would have made a stronger lead role here.
Much of this show was always going to rest on who was playing the psychic played by Whoopi Goldberg in the original film, and Jacqui Dubois as Oda Mae gives this production much of its sparkle and nearly all of its humour. This role is just so much better written than some of the others, and Jacqui takes the opportunities offered by this role and has so much fun with it.
Willie Lopez (Leo Sene) is also an interesting villain, but we get to know far too little about him here.
Some interesting supporting characters too – Hospital Ghost (James Earl Adair) and Subway Ghost (Garry Lee Netley) provide an interesting insight into Sam’s transitional spirit world.
Set wise, things are fairly simple, and I recognise that the restrictions of touring a multi set production mean that cost and simplicity need to be taken into account, but it was a pity not to see that enormous Playhouse Theatre stage (one of the widest and deepest in the UK) used to better advantage and a combination of old fashioned and modern stage trickery not used to make the ghosts’ “abilities” more spectacular. At times, the limited stage trickery reminded me of one of my favourite old television shows from the 1960s –“Randall and Hopkirk Deceased”. The visual trickery did seem that dated at times too.
How do you represent a transitional ghost space after death, heading to the bright light that is heaven and the wrong doers going to hell? That’s a big question and a challenge for all the visual teams here. The answer, by providing a very traditional view of how many people probably imagine such things to be.
Ghost The Musical is a good solid adaptation of the original film and there are some very good songs here that are so easy to overlook in favour of the obvious “Unchained Melody”, and “You Gotta Let Go Now” and “Nothing Stops Another Day” are great show songs in their own right. For me though, the story of “Ghost” is one of a great love story surviving even death and I would love to see this story come to the stage as a straight dramatic piece with maybe only the main song in it.
Ghost The Musical is good, but has the promise to be far more spectacular stage show.
Review by Tom King