I continue to see them all still, I wait up for reviews and I write about them, when everything else goes wrong - I always have a new show to see. For the past couple of years though I've found myself drifting further and further away from them, that crazy love affair we seemed to have has started to fade, I still enjoy them and watch them but the British Musical to me has pretty much died over recent years.
I wrote once before that I felt the West End musical was in a state, with flop after flop such as Gone With The Wind, Imagine This, Bad Girls (which I really liked) it seemed like we would never have another mega hit. Out came Betty Blue Eyes which I was left cold by and Lend Me a Tenor which was fun but forgettable.
The play took over and that's something we are great at, I adore them. But where are the Next to Normals, American Idiots and Scottsboro Boys? Why is our biggest hit in the past ten years still Billy Elliot?
Recently me and my theatre loving partner (how lucky is that?) got tickets to see the out of town try out of Ghost the Musical, I can't say I was excited about seeing the show and I braced myself for the worst, well you can imagine my surprise when I was blown away... as, it seems, was the whole of Manchester who could not stop talking about this show.
Here is a show for me that combined everything, beautiful music (minus that damn "Ball of Wax" number), a great book, wonderful design and a brilliant cast. The Manchester critics raved, as did I to anybody who would listen, and we quickly got tickets to see it again. Ghost in Manchester was a hit and my faith in the British musical was restored (yes I know it's based on an American film but Les Mis was hardly based in Barnsley and that's still a British musical).
Now the show has moved to London and had its press night hoping to receive the same kind of love from the major critics. From what I hear the tickets are selling well and audiences seem to be enjoying the show. However, I had a terrible feeling that the London critics may not be as enthusiastic about the show. I predicted that Quentin Letts in the Mail would not like it (he does not seem to like much anymore, I personally think it's time he handed the job to somebody else) and also thought it would get a few mixed. The London critics (much like the New York ones) seem to be a tougher group than those of us who review regional theatre, so would Ghost win the critics over in London? Not completely, it saddens me to write.
Quentin Letts in the Daily Mail was mixed (with quite a few negatives), hardly a surprise, "it's too loud," he moaned whilst the Guardian review was mixed but accused it of lacking "heart and soul." Luckily after these two, things started to look up for the show. London Theatre Guide was positive as was The Telegraph who stated it "looks set to keep audiences laughing, gasping and sniffing back tears for a long time to come." The independent gave it three stars and were disappointed in the show. Our very own Michael Coveney gave it three (to Manchester's Glenn Meads who gave it four) but was on the whole positive about the show.
More reviews will come out as the night goes on (yes, I'm writing this at 3am and drinking far too much coffee) but I have to say I can't help but be a little disappointed for the show. Many a movie turned musical takes the easy way out when it is adapted to the stage but what is currently at the Piccadilly Theatre is something that has come from passion, love and hard work.
Yes, the show may be a little on the schmaltzy side (so was the movie) but we can all use a bit of romance and tears now and then can't we? Ultimately, though - the show will survive based what the punters think (see Dirty Dancing) and judging by the comments under some of the reviews I think it's safe to say that the show is casting a spell over its audiences.
Ghost has not received any out and out negative reviews tonight which is great and they sure have a lot of pull quotes to add on to the marquee. I just personally wish the critics could have seen more in the show that has made me "believe" in British musicals again.
Congrats to the cast and crew, I'm sure this new show will enjoy a long and successful run, but don't wait too long before coming back to Manchester.
- Craig Hepworth