Live every day as if it were your last – that’s the message to take away from Bruce Joel Rubin’s Oscar-winning screenplay for the 1990 film, on which this Bill Kenwright Productions stage musical is based. The original film starred Man of the Moment Patrick Swayze and Soon-To-Be Woman of the Moment Demi Moore and became the highest-grossing film that year, scooping five Oscar nominations (winning two of them) and four Golden Globe nominations. It was a phenomenon.
Twenty-one years later it was rejuvenated for a stage musical version, with new songs added by Eurythmics maestro Dave Stewart and veteran songwriter Glen Ballard (he’s good – he co-wrote Michael Jackson’s Man in the Mirror). This Kenwright production is enhanced even further, with an improved story and different songs.
Rubin’s original story is an undisputed classic, it’s one everybody remembers and loves. At the start of the show, Molly and Sam are head over heels in love, so we know straight away that something bad is going to happen, and it does. Sam is shot and killed by a street robber, leaving heartbroken Molly alone and vulnerable. But for all the proclamations of love and devotion in the early scenes, it’s only when Sam’s shot dead that the show comes truly alive as his ghost hangs around in order to protect Molly from ongoing dangers.
Except he’s a ghost, he has no physical form, so he cannot communicate with Molly, or touch her, or stop anybody else from doing so. Sam Ferriday (standing in more than adequately for Andy Moss in the production I saw) sells Sam’s frustration well when he’s trying to come to terms with being dead and non-corporeal, and the love story between Sam and Molly only really hits home through their tragic separation.
Ferriday has a brooding presence as Sam while Carolyn Maitland sparkles as a heartbroken Molly who cannot bear to live on without her true love. This heartbreak is translated beautifully through the music, with Maitland knocking the ball out of the park with her soaring rendition of With You (a highlight of the score) while Ferriday excels in his spotlight song Teach Me How, one of the latest additions to the score.
Of course, one of the first things people remember about Ghost is the Whoopi Goldberg character, the fake medium Oda Mae, who Sam uses to communicate with Molly. Goldberg was so good she won an Oscar for her part in the film, so anybody who steps into those pumps has an awful lot to live up to. Thankfully, Tarisha Rommick (standing in for Jacqui Dubois) more than meets the challenge, and in fact pretty much steals the show in what is a godsend of a role for any actor. Her introductory song Are You a Believer? is great, uplifting fun, but it’s her spotlight number in Act 2 – I’m Outta Here – which shows what star quality Rommick has. Her turn as Oda Mae is packed with lovely nuance, bursting with barbed wit, perfect comic timing and bags of charisma. And yes, she may keep the pen…
The true star of Ghost is the story. Rommick might steal the show with her colourful performance, but the musical as a whole is a stunning achievement. Stewart and Ballard have come up with some truly beautiful songs (the rousing More, the spine-tingling With You, the tour de force of Rain/ Hold On), but let’s face it, they’re all overshadowed by the song everybody knows Ghost for, Unchained Melody. We’re cruelly tempted with a somewhat underpowered snippet in Act 1, but get the full dual-lead rendition in Act 2, which Maitland, and particularly Ferriday, have down to perfection. It’s a magical moment in the show and does not fail to exceed expectations.
The quality of the teamwork on this production is plain. Director Bob Tomson stages the show expertly, with a rattling pace from the top and a fluid transition from narrative to performance. Whether it’s Mark Bailey’s sets, Nick Richings’ highly effective lighting, or the wonderful illusory tricks of Richard Pinner (it’s great to have a bit of real magic on stage, especially when Sam passes through a supposedly solid door, or when a gun turns itself against bad guy Willie in his hand), everything works together to create a truly magical and moving show.
The final scene, when the bad guys have been thwarted and all that remains is for Sam to say a final goodbye to both Molly and Oda Mae, the richness of the storytelling plays its trump card. Tomson opts for a simple glitter ball and clever lighting and smoke effects to depict Sam’s departure to the afterlife. It’s so simple that it’s heartbreaking, just as intended.
The tragic fade to black leaves the audience satisfied by a sad but perfect ending, and craving more. Ghost: The Musical is a fine translation of a fine film to the stage, but may actually transcend the original’s reputation. There are many stage adaptations of popular films doing the rounds, but this one is up there with the best.
Ghost: The Musical at Venue Cymru, Llandudno (until March 11th, and touring)