Those familiar with the 1990 film will think of Ghost as a sad and intimate story which deals with the sensitive emotions around losing a loved one. It's not an immediately obvious subject for musical theatre, a genre best known for its bold, brash and upbeat song-and-dance routines. However, this production proves that, when done well, stage musicals can be both entertaining and emotional.
It's the visual effects that are the star of this show, most notably the stunning projections which create impact, mood, depth and movement in a variety of innovative ways. They enable the action to move swiftly and smoothly from loft apartment to tube train, rainy street to police station. But it's not all about the big spectacle - just as much care has been put into the small touches, such as newspapers which fly unaided into the air, characters which walk through walls and some very nice sleight of hand tricks.
The lighting is also wonderfully evocative - sharp and stark in the cut-throat business world, warm and intimate in the couple's flat, rainbow bright in the psychic's salon, and appropriately heavenly or hellish as the recently departed discover their fate.
The chemistry and connection between lovers Sam and Molly is convincingly established right from the beginning. Rebecca Trehearn puts in a powerful and moving performance as the bereaved artist unable to move on with her life. Stewart Clarke too is excellent as the angry and frustrated Sam, desperate to be heard by the living and refusing to leave the mortal realm while Molly is in danger. Their tender duets pack a powerful emotional punch.
But the stand out performance is Wendy Mae Brown as flamboyant psychic Oda Mae Brown. The gospel and disco themed numbers in which she stars are full of glitter, guts and humour. She gets the best lines and the best outfits, and it is her character which gives the story a much needed shot of warmth and colour, in contrast to the underlying themes of loss and corruption.
It's not necessary to know the movie to enjoy the musical version, but those familiar with the film will not be disappointed. The iconic pottery scene puts in an appearance, as does the movie's signature hit "Unchained Melody", although both are adapted well to suit the stage.
The original songs are good, if not particularly memorable, but this is musical theatre with emotional depth and a big heart, coupled with breathtaking staging which brings the story to life with great impact. Highly recommended.
Ghost the Musical plays at Birmingham's New Alexandra Theatre until Sunday January 5.
- Alexandra Taylor