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Ghost the Musical (Manchester)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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It is hoped that Ghost - the highly anticipated new musical based on Bruce Joel Rubin's genre-busting film - will follow in the footsteps of West End hits Sister Act and Dirty Dancing and pack em' in. In many respects the show is far superior to other screen-to-stage adaptations because of Dave Stewart and Glen Ballard's original music and lyrics - not an oven-ready back catalogue tailor made for a pre-prepared narrative. All that's missing from many of these shows are the fries to go, but they often lack heart.

Having Rubin on board means that director Matthew Warchus is loyal to the original and, at times, slavishly so. But there are some nice touches that set it apart. "Unchained Melody" is used as Sam and Molly's song, far from an over-blown set piece, it is a homage and works wonderfully well. The plot also suits the musical genre and fits like a glove, exploring grief, deception, comedy and love conveyed as that one true thing you find with a soul mate.

Sam (played by the strong and stoic Richard Fleeshman) is murdered and whilst his girlfriend Molly (the ridiculously talented Caissie Levy) cries for her lost love, our hero seeks help from beyond the grave to find his killer. This may all sound very Murder She Wrote but with a trio of terrific performances from Fleeshman, Levy and Sharon D Clarke as fake Psychic Oda Mae Brown and a moving score, you buy into this high concept.

The show is not without it's faults which will hopefully be ironed out before the forthcoming London transfer. Some scenes seem perfunctory, the potter's wheel scene for example serves no purpose here, having driven the film narrative forwards.

Following Sam's death, the audience should be heartbroken as this couple are so likeable, but instead we are given a vaudeville-style number; "Ball Of Wax" sung by ghosts. This takes away any emotion and the song itself is as disposable as the characters singing it.

On the plus side Levy is in great voice and can be tender one minute and as angry as Alanis Morrisette the next, however many of her songs fade into one as they are incredibly samey. "Suspend My Disbelief" and "Here Right Now" stand out though in her very capable hands.

Likewise, the ensemble and swings are all excellent but there is no interaction between them, Sam and Molly. This could be remedied by group dance scenes, as Fleeshman and Levy have both proved via Legally Blonde and Hair that they can move.

In terms of characterisation Andrew Langtree's Carl is very panto villain and he sadly hasn't got the chops for lead vocals, although he works well with an underwritten role. In contrast Clarke is a real crowd pleaser, avoiding impersonating Whoopi Goldberg she makes the role her own and brings much needed comedy. She needs more songs, as she can belt out a tune, and proves it with the wonderful (if too little too late) "I'm Outta Here". Paul Kieve's effects are impressive, although from the stalls you can see how many of them are achieved which does take you out of the show momentarily.

What Ghost has in spades is heart and Levy, Fleeshman and Clarke breathe life into the material and make it appear fresh. A few cuts and playing to cast member's strengths should see the West End believing as much as Manchester, as this is a slick show which deserves to do well. The team behind it have created something which offers audiences far more than a lazy retread.


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