Saturday, March 10, 2012

Review: Ghost - the musical without a skeleton

Ghost: The Musical
Wednesday 7th March 2012
Piccadilly Theatre, London

My expectations for Ghost, the musical after watching a tear-jerking performance of “With You” at a charity concert were high. The song’s subtle meaning and fragile delivery took me to that vulnerable place where I began contemplating the mortality of my loved-ones. Sadly, one good song and some impressive illusions are about as good as it gets.

The greatest disappointment and most easily fixed problem is the casting of the leads. Soul mates Sam and Molly are demanding characters with constant emotionally charged scenes but Mark Evans and Siobhan Dillon didn’t have the acting chops. Rather than evoking sadness and anger, what eventuated was whiny at times, overly dramatic at others, and more frequently disconnected from emotion altogether.

It didn’t help that the actors had a poor libretto (book by Bruce Joel Rubin, music by Dave Stewart and Glen Ballard) to work with. The first few scenes before Sam’s death were meant to set up his loving relationship with Molly, but the overriding picture was that of a cocky artist with the personality of a goldfish. Their interaction was limited to arguing about a Princess Leia poster, Sam’s inability to say the “L word” and copious amounts of make-out sessions. As a result, there was almost no sense of loss at his death and the rest of the show fought an up-hill battle to make the audience feel emotionally invested in the story.

The score is mostly repetitive, with melodies that go nowhere. The climax of most songs are signaled by the loudness of the orchestra rather than complex tonal progressions and rhythms. Particularly disappointing was “I Had a Life,” which had potential to be an electric shock to the audience as they discover the true reasons behind Sam’s death and instead consists of angry repetition of the phrase “I Had a Life” to an anti-climatically stagnant melody.

Oda Mae Brown (Sharon D Clarke) had the best material to work with, and she delivered it well. She carried all the lightness of the show on her shoulders and her comic timing was very good.

Illusions (Paul Kieve) are the highlight of the show. The revenge scene in the second act gives off a very Matilda-esque vibe and the use of highly advanced tricks to make objects move on their own accord is exciting to watch. The subway scene where commuters and their belongings are thrown around the carriage by the Subway ghost was unique and impressive.

The illusions are aided by a fantastic set and lighting design, and good direction by Matthew Warchus. The ensemble had little to do, but the transition scenes where they walked and danced in front of tall, vibrant projections was an effective way to unobtrusively move large set pieces.

If Ghost is a box office success it is not because the show is good but because it is commercially viable. People having loved the film will want to relive the story onstage. And they’ll get to. But Ghost is a show without a skeleton. On the outside it looks the same as the classic film, but on the inside it lacks the necessary structure to support its own weight. With a more complex plot, a libretto that showed love, grief and hope through melodies and actions rather than cliché words, stronger lead actors, and a more diverse and layered score, the show may have potential to be popular for its own merit rather than simply because it is adapted from a famous movie.

is yet another example of why commercial musicals are doing nothing for the creative energy of theatre on the West End. The West End is crying out for an original story and an inspired score. Matilda is enough to placate for now (and it is truly fantastic), but when a revival of Sweeney Todd (a 30-year-old musical) is one of the few exciting recent developments hitting the main theatre circuit, there is cause for concern.

Tickets at

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Completely disagree. This show in AMAZING! I had a Life is an amazing song, with such emotion. This climax is just amazing with the 3 leads all singing different parts. I love this musical and can't stop crying when i think about it closing. I think your opinion of this show has been effected but what you have heard before you saw the show.