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Review Round-up: Ghost Reincarnated as Musical

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Screen-to-stage musical Ghost the Musical opened at the West End's Piccadilly Theatre last night (19 July, previews from 24 June 2011) starring Caissie Levy and Richard Fleeshman and Sharon D Clark as Sam, Molly and Oda Mae, the parts played in the classic 1990 Oscar-winning film by Demi Moore, Patrick Swayze and Whoopi Goldberg respectively.

Screenwriter Bruce Joel Rubin adapts his original screenplay for the book, while music and lyrics are by the Eurythmics’ Dave Stewart and Grammy Award winner Glen Ballard.

After Sam is murdered in a mugging, he becomes trapped as a ghost between this world and the next, unwilling to leave Molly who remains in danger. With the help of a phoney psychic Oda Mae Brown, Sam attempts to communicate with and save Molly.

In mixed reviews, Matthew Warchus’s production is lavished with praise for its spectacular use of video projection and special effects - video designed by Jon Discoll and illusions devised by Paul Kieve.

Amongst the cast, the critics are united in praising Sharon D Clark, who appears to have dismissed any fears she could be over-shaddowed by Whoopi Goldberg's Oscar-winning performance in the original motion picture.

Michael Coveney

"There are moments in the 1990 film of Ghost when music is undoubtedly called for ... I’m not sure Ghost the Musical supplies what’s missing to a sufficient degree ... But... 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 ... Most impressively, Matthew Warchus’s 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 notion that we have a parallel existence beyond mortality is stunningly expressed in a show of video projections (designed by Jon Driscoll) ... These sequences are what make the musical crackle into life where there previously was none ... 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 ... Sam and Molly are an anodyne couple, while Andrew Langtree has more to work with as their treacherous friend, Carl ... In all, it’s a fairly fine new musical, and not just for those who love the movie."

Quentin Letts
Daily Mail

"Much of Ghost is not so much musical theatre as blaring pop concert ... Sitting in the middle of the stalls, I felt as though I had just spent two and a half hours at the noisy end of an airport runway ... I did not enjoy the first half much and returned after the interval, fortified by a schooner of the producers’ white wine, with trepidation. Yet by the curtain call I was, if not moved, far more enthusiastic ... There are repeated 'you guys' and 'you know whats?'. Terrible dialogue. Obvious melodies, too. It is unfair to judge Levy’s acting, so wooden are her lines, but she has a STRONG voice ... The show’s tentative exploration of an afterlife did grab me... red flashes and images of a cackling devil. Heaven is also discovered towards the end of the show ... Sharon D Clarke brings the production to life ... Blinding lights and some clever tricks. Well done, illusionist Paul Kieve ... If, by the end, you have not contracted tinnitis from the over-amplification, you might even hear a few sniffles of emotion as they sing the final song."

Michael Billington

"Musicals based on movies are a dime a dozen, but Ghost is the first I've seen that feels like a film ... The real stars of Matthew Warchus' production are Rob Howell's sets and Jon Driscoll's video designs ... Caissie Levy's Molly, although well sung, seems somewhat grumpy and Richard Fleeshman's colourless Sam apologetically sings, in proof of his unarticulated affection, 'I make you scrambled eggs.' The passion is upstaged by the projections. The romantic songs, by Dave Stewart and Glen Ballard, are strangely forgettable. Where the show sparks into life is with the emergence of Oda Mae Brown, the fake medium who acts as Sam's intermediary with Molly. This is partly because Sharon D Clarke has an overwhelming personality and a richly expressive voice ... It is Clarke who provides the show with what it mostly lacks: heart and soul. For the rest, one is left to gawp at the ingenuity of Paul Kieve's illusions ... Warchus masterminds the whole operation with skill. But unlike Matilda, which features members of the same production team, I felt the people were largely secondary to the optical pyrotechnics."

Charles Spencer
Daily Telegraph

"Like the film on which it is based, Ghost the Musical proves the guiltiest of pleasures. Indeed, in many ways, Matthew Warchus’ production strikes me as superior to the 1990 movie ... In the movies, you can make anything happen. In the theatre, it takes real ingenuity to summon up ghosts and physical disturbances from beyond the grave. Warchus succeeds spectacularly, here with the help of the illusionist Paul Kieve ... The use of state-of-the-art video and projections... has great panache, too ... Though the story is a touch corny, and often gloopily sentimental, there is something genuinely distinctive about Ghost ... Sharon D Clarke is a comic joy in the role, making the part entirely her own despite following in the Oscar-winning footsteps of Whoopi Goldberg ... Clarke almost blows the roof off the theatre with her raucous rendition of the show’s best original number, 'I’m Out of Here' ... Richard Fleeshman and Caissie Levy need to ignite a touch more stage chemistry ... But Andrew Langtree and Ivan de Freitas prove genuinely sinister ... The show’s ending... proves unexpectedly touching and is magically staged. This may not be a great musical, but it is a highly entertaining one that looks set to keep audiences laughing, gasping and sniffing back tears for a long time to come."

Alun Palmer
Daily Mirror

"There is heaven and then there is hell. And somewhere between the two is the living death that is Ghost ... This musical version isn’t so much a joyous celebration of love lasting beyond the grave as dead on arrival ... The script is wetter than a November weekend in Skegness ... The music, by Eurythmics’ Dave Stewart, is the kind of bland pap he churned out in the 80s ... Even the choreography was last seen in a trashy Eurythmics video ... Sharon D Clarke gives a bit of zest to proceedings ... Fleeshman has a fine voice and spectacular moving video screens and special effects help distract from proceedings. But not for long. This Ghost seems destined not to haunt the West End for very long."

Henry Hitchings
Evening Standard


"With superb special effects and engaging performances, Matthew Warchus' production certainly has plenty of dazzle ... Bruce Joel Rubin has dutifully adapted his own Oscar-winning screenplay: there's the famous scene with the potter's wheel, the hungry yearning of the Righteous Brothers' 'Unchained Melody', and the soulful chutzpah of Oda Mae Brown ... Here we have the ingredients of a haunting musical. But we end up with something unsubtle and often strident ... The show suffers from following the film too closely ... Richard Fleeshman is powerful and sensitive. Caissie Levy shows a seemingly effortless vocal potency as his devoted partner Molly. Yet we never get a strong sense of their passion ... There's an assured performance from Andrew Langtree as Carl... and Sharon D Clarke brings some welcome notes of throaty gospel to her role as the charlatan Oda Mae. The chief success is the production's aesthetic. Rob Howell's impressive set deftly integrates magician Paul Kieve's effects and clever projections by Jon Driscoll, and there are moments of gasp-inducing ingenuity. This technical wizardry, allied to the appeal of the leads, may just be enough to make Ghost the Musical an unearthly hit."

Dominic Maxwell
The Times

"OK, Ghost the Musical, I give in, you win. Your songs are proficient rather than memorable. You cling too tightly to the shape of the 1990 film. You’re a spectacular that frequently flirts with overkill ... There’s still a potter’s wheel, that mockably phallic wet-clay session is gone. However, the Righteous Brothers’ 'Unchained Melody' remains the motif. Richard Fleeshman as the buff young banker Sam sings and strums it to Caissie Levy as his buff young artist girlfriend Molly ... There are power ballads as Molly pines for Sam; power-chordy production numbers that evoke big longings in the Big Apple; a gospel tune for Sharon D Clarke in the Whoopi Goldberg role ... Fleeshman, trapped between life and death, gives the big sell to Sam’s confusion and rage. Levy simply soars ... The first half has some wobbles. The second half builds and builds ... There are proper laughs, thanks to Clarke’s spirited turn as Oda Mae ... The best single argument for putting this film on the stage is Paul Kieve’s special effects ... Now, heaven help us if all shows laid it on this thick. Yet for all the steroidal qualities of Ghost the Musical, it also has wit and heart, and can really, properly dazzle."


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