Ghost The Musical makes its theatrical appearance at The Festival Theatre Edinburgh this week (Tuesday 26th February to Saturday 2nd March) and, judging by the audience numbers and their responses here, there is clearly still much life in this story after the iconic 1990 film. That film of course starred Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore and Whoopi Goldberg and, perhaps a bit unfairly, any stage production is always going to be compared to this version, and its cast with Niall Sheehy as Sam here always having to follow the ghost of Patrick Swayze as Patrick made this role so identifiable with him.
Niall does a good job with his role here on-stage, but is hindered at times by the fact that this story really belongs to Molly, and his big duet is right at the end of this story. Despite being the title “Ghost”, Sam the character gets killed a little too early here and we get little opportunity to explore his living relationship with Molly and what little we do find out comes later from Molly. For me, this means that nearly all of the emotional depth of this relationship comes from Molly, and it is her emotional struggle to come to terms with Sam’s death and to try and make some sense (if there is any) of things that is the main driving force in this story. For some reason, Molly also seems to get many of the best lines and the best songs in this musical adaptation, and Rebekah Lowings clearly understands all of this as her authority is stamped all over her role as Molly from the very beginning here and so much of this on-stage production belongs to her.
Part of the charm of this story is of course that only we, the audience, can see Sam, and only psychic medium/professional fraudster Oda Mae can hear him (most of the time), and playing on stage against someone that you are not supposed to see (or hear) must be difficult for any actor to do and not let even small body language movements give the illusion away, and in this respect, all our main cast do this job well. It is however Jacqui Dubois who has the most difficult job to do here with her comedy inter-action with Sam, and she does it very well. Of, course, anyone who has seen the film will always be seeing a little of Whoopi Goldberg in this role, but I think that Jacqui did more than enough to make this role her own here.
We do of course have a murder here, and behind that murder a good plot of Wall Street bank finance and money laundering which Sam is unwittingly caught up in as his “friend” Carl weaves his own plot within the main story, and Sergio Pasquariello brings his own gentle touch to this role.
Niall Sheehy (Sam) and Rebekah Lowings (Molly) work well together on stage, but for some reason that magic spark between the two of them that makes you want to believe that this is a love story surviving death does seem at times to be elusive and not there. Fortunately though, our classic scene is always going to be saved here by one of the most wonderful songs ever written – the amazing “Unchained Melody” written by Hy Zaret and Alex North. There is a strange irony however that a song written as the theme tune for a relatively obscure prison film “Unchained” (1955), hence the title, should become one of the greatest love songs of all time.
Of course, we also have our moral tale here and a very idealised concept of Heaven and Hell along with this “in-between” space, and there are some good moments here with Hospital Ghost (James Earl Adair) and Subway Ghost (Lovonne Richards) deserving far more time than this story can allow them.
Ghost the Musical is a touring production, and with that always comes some limitations to economics of the set, but it would be nice to see some more “theatrical magic” on stage here as what we get is pretty basic, but it does what is required, and no more. Stage sets also make good use of the space even if some scene changes are a little “clunky”. Oddly, for a musical, this story really does not need many of the song and dance routines and they are all too often here as space fillers that are doing little (if anything) to progress our story. Part of the problem is of course that this story could so easily be told with just our principal cast.
Ghost the Musical is not perfect theatre, but judging from the response to the show from so many of the audience here, it is a perfect night out for many people.
Review by Tom King