Rebekah Lowings and Niall Sheehy, above and below; Jacqui Dubois, top: PAMELA RAITH PHOTOGRAPHY

Ghost, the movie, is perhaps one of the most well-known and well-loved films in cinema history, and not only by becoming an easy favourite title of Christmas party charade games. It was the highest-grossing movie in 1990 and bagged Whoopi Goldberg a well-deserved Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. It also won the Oscar for the coveted Best Original Screenplay award for Bruce Joel Ruben. And I’m sure that the memorably sensual Potter’s Wheel scene caused more of a revival in the arts and crafts movement than William Morris himself. Yes, Ghost has certainly infiltrated many aspects of modern culture, and of course, who cannot now disassociate it from The Righteous Brother’s Unchained Melody?

It is therefore perhaps inevitable that it hit the stage as a musical, premiering in Manchester in 2011. It has since been seen on the West End, Broadway and has already completed one UK national tour. Bruce Joel Rubin, writer of the original film script has kept his hands on the book and lyrics, and music has been created by Dave Stewart of Eurythmics fame, and the accomplished musical songwriter/arranger, Glen Ballard.

The story, in case you’ve forgotten: Molly and Sam (a young couple very much in love) are walking home one evening, when Sam is mugged and murdered. Sam finds himself trapped between the worlds of the living and the dead, knowing that Molly is still in danger from the murderer, desperately wanting to save her from the same fate as his. Unable to communicate with her to warn her, he enlists the help of a dubious self-proclaimed psychic, Oda Mae Brown. It is, in essence a love story, with a fantasy-humorous-murderous twist.

So, nearly 30 years on from the movie debut, it’s not surprising that it was largely groups of giggling, middle-aged women hurrying from the car park through the drizzle towards  the opening night at the New Victoria, for this revised, more intimate and newly orchestrated version of the musical. The white wine was positively flowing from the bars as the audience prepared themselves for a nostalgic treat of laughter and tears.

The programme revealed that the cast were young and theatrically experienced, but with no notable names, I wondered how strong the performance would be. My fears were not allayed as the first few scenes got off to a shaky start, while I was slightly distracted by the American accents, badly taped on microphones and busy stage rearrangements. The first song didn’t have any wow factor, so I was beginning to anticipate a long evening. The iconic potter’s wheel scene seemed to be rushed into the second scene almost to get it over and done with, rather than establish the love between the two lead characters. Unfortunately the use of a real wheel and clay drew my attention away from the intimacy of the scene, as  I was focusing on the phallic shaping of the clay and its wobbly rotation on the wheel. I think Demi Moore lookalike Rebekah Lowings, playing Molly, also found Sam’s (Niall Sheehy) intimate interferences a bit off-putting too, as she quickly abandoned her ceramic creation to throw off her top and his, leading to a slightly awkward moment of male torso admiring.

Happily, from that point on, once the pot was abandoned and the plot got going, things started to improve. The songs increased in gusto and power and the dancing was vibrant, fresh and dynamic. Scene changes and supernatural illusionary effects were more fluid and less noticeable. The first act ended with a powerful full company performance, aptly named Suspend My Disbelief, worthy of a West End stage. The second act was entirely enjoyable. Sheehy (Sam), who probably earned the lead role for his musical talents rather than Swayze-like looks, hit the high notes in Unchained Melody quite nicely and Jacqui Dubois as Oda Mae, stole every scene she was in. Sergio Pasquariello also deserves a mention for his performance as duplicitous friend Carl, for all-round talent. In the final scene sobs were heard from the audience, which I took as a sign of success. This production is certainly not tired and, unlike several of the characters, has much life left in it yet.

[Amanda Briggs February 2019]

Ghost the Musical is playing at the New Victoria theatre, Woking , from 5 February to 9 February at 7.30pm, with matinees at 2.30pm on 6,7 and 9 February

Rebekah Lowings and Niall Sheehy: PAMELA RAITH PHOTOGRAPHY

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