Wednesday 29 June 2011

Ghost: The Musical @ Piccadilly Theatre

What began as a sweet yet tragic love story has become a piece of ridicule, endlessly parodied for the infamous pottery scene and its sexual innuendo.  Now, it's been reworked for the musical stage into a magical show.

Ghost probably won't strike you as the ideal material for a musical and the show never quite escapes this preconception.  It's at its best when it focuses on the central love story between Sam and Molly that manages to remain tender and realistic despite the stylised (over)acting.  Sure, the murder mystery isn't so much a mystery, but the relationship between the protagonists is well played.  However, a number of ensemble numbers have been shoehorned in to justify the existence of the extended cast and whilst the robotic choreography looks great, these songs add little to the narrative.  Then again, that criticism could be aimed at the music as a whole - it's nice to listen to and well sung, but ultimately little more than superfluous fluff to condone the musical adaptation with some rather hackneyed lyrics in places.

The main attraction here is the set.  It's complex, folding in and out of each scene like a pop-up book.  The show maintains its film heritage with fantastic use of screens and projections that add a real cinematic quality and an urban feel to the setting.  The special effects are utterly convincing, bringing the ghost to life - well, so to speak; clever use of lighting and smoke had the audience totally fooled, even if the dummies didn't.  In particular, the subway scenes are imaginatively directed.  And if that's what it looks like, don't ever let me get dragged to hell...

As a whole though, the production feels like a mish-mash of different influences.  There's definitely a Matrix feel, what with the projected descending symbols in the office scenes, the gospel singing Oda Mae as the spirit guide (a.k.a The Oracle) and the rastafarian subway ghost as the fighting mentor (a.k.a Morpheus).  The music too follows this trend, mixing elements of Rent, Fame, Hair and We Will Rock You.  Overall the music has a contemporary feel that suits the modern setting and subtle use of Unchained Melody weaves its way through the orchestration.  It's not particularly memorable as a whole, but Molly's 'With You' was a particular emotional highlight and beautifully sung by Caissie Levy.  Why, then, did the writers decided to include a tap number with a cast of misfit ghosts just after Sam's death?  It's ridiculous and totally out of place, making a mockery of the intended emotion.  And whilst Oda Mae's gospel/funk numbers added some humour, they detract from the intensity of the narrative.

Though the production was slick, the show itself isn't as tightly focused as it could be.  Nevertheless, the set and special effects are enthralling and revitalise an overly parodied story.  It may not be top of your West End 'To See' list, but it's well worth a view.