There are moments in the 1990 film of Ghost when music is undoubtedly called for: crop-haired, gamine, sexy Demi Moore’s face filling with tears just doesn’t seem enough to express the pain of losing her lover. And Patrick Swayze’s “real life” death two years ago has only made things worse. He really is untouchable.
I’m not sure Ghost the Musical supplies what’s missing to a sufficient degree: the Righteous Brothers’ version of “Unchained Melody,” so cheesily overwhelming in the movie, is at first simply and unfussily delivered by Richard Fleeshman in the Swayze role of clean-cut banker Sam Wheat.
But with book and lyrics by Ghost screenwriter Bruce Joel Rubin, and music and lyrics by Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics and the record producer and arranger Glen Ballard, we do at least have an utterly faithful rendition of the film’s narrative and a couple of strongly built, though not exactly soul-stirring, power ballads for Caissie Levy’s bereaved Molly Jensen, who’s more of a Jennifer Aniston than a Demi Moore.
Most impressively, Matthew Warchus’ slick and efficient production, even though it loses dramatic momentum in the first half, finally pulls the elements of love story, thriller and supernatural transfiguration into one ship-shape organic whole. The film is about finishing the incomplete business of a relationship; the musical is all about belief, and not just the narcissistic kind of belief you get in most musicals.
Sam and Molly are mugged by their best friend’s hit man as part of a money-laundering scam. Sam is killed and immediately stands up alongside his own body. The notion that we have a parallel existence beyond mortality is stunningly expressed in a show of video projections (designed by Jon Driscoll) and a silhouette of an ensemble who stride through Wall Street like spooky automatons.
These sequences are what make the musical crackle into life where there previously was none. Contact with both Sam and the zombie half-way house fraternity is sealed with the intervention of Sharon D Clarke’s mountainous, hot-gospelling psychic Oda Mae Brown, sensibly avoiding any wise-cracking, wacky resemblance to Whoopi Goldberg in the movie.
Warchus and designer Rob Howell create a teeming contemporary canvas in Wall Street and Brooklyn, and the lighting of Hugh Vanstone and illusions of Paul Kieve conspire to make the membrane of materialism both transparent and susceptible: Sam walks through doors, the subway evaporates around a rushing train, the galaxy melts in a shower of shooting stars.
The orchestrations of Christopher Nightingale are as good as the music they serve, though there’s not much of a killer punch to any of it. Sam and Molly are an anodyne couple, while Andrew Langtree has more to work with as their treacherous friend, Carl, a smug turncoat who fiddles the books and adds insult to injury (and murder) by closing in on Molly.
All three are stranded, however, in a force field of energy emanating not just from Sharon D Clarke, but also the wonderful choreography of Ashley Wallen and Liam Steel, Mark White as the explanatory, soft shoe-shuffling hospital corpse, Ivan De Freitas as the street-fighting killer and Adebayo Bolaji as a fearsome subway ghost with dead-locked dreadlocks. In all, it’s a fairly fine new musical, and not just for those who love the movie.