Music and lyrics by Dave Stewart and Glen Ballard
Directed by Matthew Warchus; Resident director Natalie Gilhome
Ambassador Theatre Group
108 King Street, Sydney
Season: 18 March - 14 May
Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore in Ghost, the 1990 film, have surely become iconic, with that pottery scene marked in many minds as one to remember. Whilst a little cheesy to be amongst the ranks of my personal favourite films, lovers of the film I bet will love the musical version, brought to the Theatre Royal stage in Sydney and touring Australia by the Ambassador Theatre Group. There is much to commend about this show - its special effects and production design being highly impressive elements – however the cheesiness and simplicity of the film permeates the musical’s story, and it left me feeling unmoved by the tale.
For those who don’t know the storyline, Ghost follows the relationship of Sam and Molly, a couple deeply in love, crossing the bounds between life and death as Sam as killed in a mugging and becomes a ghost. Sam desperately tries to warn Molly of the dangers that may befall her, with the help of Oda Mae Brown, a fraudulent psychic who develops the ability to hear Sam’s voice from the dead.
Jemma Rix’s voice is a standout in her performance of Molly, incredibly strong and hard to fault. We see good chemistry between Rix and Rob Mills as Sam, however this is hard to maintain when Sam dies and the grieving Molly can no longer see or hear Sam. Perhaps more time spent with the couple together in full life would have helped to flesh out the relationship more, with greater impact on audiences to partake in the sadness of their separation. This notion in general can be difficult to navigate in musical theatre, as there can be a tendency to strip back all narrative ‘excess’, substituting dialogue that can give a sense of authenticity to a story, with songs to evoke emotion. For me, the music didn’t succeed in evoking a genuine sense of emotional journey for Molly and Sam’s relationship. Ultimately, we only ever see two-dimensional characters across the entire cast, which is a tired and tedious approach to characterisation. On the other hand, the dynamism of the scenes in urban New York was engaging and upbeat, achieved by a combination of effective production design and a slick and energised ensemble cast. Sliding digital screens (designed by Jon Driscoll and Emily Harding) and statement set pieces effectively communicated a sense of place that I imagine all audience members can relate to, given the frequent imagery of New York we absorb from popular culture.
Wendy Mae Brown gives the highlight performance as Oda Mae Brown, the dodgy yet exuberant psychic. She lives up to expectations set by Whoopi Goldberg’s Oscar-winning performance in the film, hitting the mark on classic lines from the film and bringing her own unique vibrancy to the table. Lydia Warr and Evette Marie White are also hilarious as Clara and Louise, Oda Mae’s outrageous assistants at the psychic parlour. David Denis’ dance moves and work with the supernatural special effects are fantastic and are evidence of the potential for powerful live performance, even with a show as technically tricky to pull off as Ghost.
If you’re heading to this musical, you will likely receive everything you expect, and perhaps no little more than that. While technological efficacy can be visually impressive and wow to a certain extent, an uninspired storyline and superficial characterisations without nuance is indicative that this show could be lacking true creativity at its core. Erring on the side of risk aversion or a patronising view of audiences is indeed a shame, reducing the show’s impact and ability to fulfil audience desires. In saying this, the performers are all of an excellent calibre within the given bounds of the musical, the special effects are fresh and bring an exciting touch of the supernatural to live performance. Ultimately, it depends what you want from your experience at the theatre – perhaps Ghost the Musical will be right up your alley. It’s a bright and flashy show with some splendid personalities – it just didn’t quite do it for me.