Touring – reviewed at Edinburgh Playhouse
Part thriller, part romantic comedy, part Sarah Harding casting error, Ghost: the Musical, now in Edinburgh as part of its ongoing tour, does just about everything expected of it.
This is the musical adaptation of the 1990s Demi Moore, Patrick Swayze film, in which the happiness of young lovers Molly and Sam is cut short when he is killed in a street robbery gone wrong – soon after they move into a loft apartment in dangerous Brooklyn. The original was so charged with emotion-triggering elements that the tears flowed copiously; the tear ducts opened not out of empathy with the characters or sympathy for their predicament, but by the jack-hammer of manipulation.
Fortunately Bruce Joel Rubin’s adaptation of his own film script picks up elements of the film that were simply used as emotional stimuli and reinstates them as proper plot lines. Notably the thriller sub-plot which sees Andy Moss as Sam’s spirit realise that his death was no accident and that Sarah Harding’s Molly is in mortal danger.
Unfortunately Bob Thomson’s direction of this Bill Kenwright production is too keen to establish this. The outcome of the thriller sub-plot is obvious from the first time Molly, Sam and Carl, Sam’s pal from work in high-powered banking, get to hang out in the new apartment and Sam Ferriday’s Carl lingers over his goodbye hug with Molly.
It springs to life with arrival of Jacquie Dubois as Oda Mae Brown, the psychic con artist who discovers that she really does have the “gift” when Sam’s spirit wanders in to her parlour. Dubois has the best songs and comedy, although even she appears to be operating at a level that is not going to overshadow the less able cast members.
This production has the edge on the previous tour of the show on one regard. It refuses to rely on gimmicky projections and special effects. Instead designer Mark Bailey has gone back to basics. He understands that lighting and smoke are all you need for a decent theatrical illusion, not a surfeit of projections and flashing backdrops. And trusts his audience to work out the storytelling for themselves if one of the characters they can see on stage is invisible to the rest.
What Bailey, Tomson and the cast can’t change is the musical itself. It really is not the best. It has all the constituent parts and tries so hard to be a musical in structure. So at least you know that it is going to be half-time when Molly, Carl and Sam break out the big trio, layering Suspend Me Disbelief with I Had a Life.
What then, of Sarah Harding, whose casting raised eyebrows from the moment it was announced, and who pulled out of the tour for a while with fatigue.
The problem for Harding is that she is miscast. It is as basic as that. Her voice is simply not capable of working well in the higher passages. When she can hit the note, she knows how to belt it out. Which only makes those passages where she is outside her natural range sound even worse. Her tone thins out, her delivery becomes breathy and you begin to fear she is actively hurting her voice.
It says a lot when the male half of a male-female duet rises in power and clarity above his partner as the music hits the high notes.
Harding’s acting abilities are pretty basic too. This really needs strong performers to distract from the holes in plot and inconsequential nonsense. You need to care for these characters, not question their motivation. And Harding is not such an actress.
She goes about her work with an earnestness which is endearing but ultimately doesn’t make her a better singer. Those going to the show hoping for some kind of car-crash performance will be severely disappointed, however. But so too, in their true hearts, will her fans: she needs a vehicle which will show off her strengths, not expose her weaknesses.
Elsewhere, Andy Moss is a perfectly amiable Sam. A classic piece of Hollyoaks casting, he is strong on all fronts but never hugely memorable. Sam Ferriday, like Dubois, is not slack but probably has more in the bag if he wanted to let it out. In fact, it is a solidly professional cast and musical crew all the way down the line.
After Edinburgh and a week in Nottingham, the production is set for a Christmas break before returning for a 14 date tour in the new year to April. With the right cast, its audiences might well be able to believe.
Running time 2 hours 30 minutes (including one interval)
Edinburgh Playhouse, 18 – 22 Greenside Place, Edinburgh, EH1 3AA
Monday 20 – Saturday 26 November 2016
Daily: 7.30pm; Matinees Weds, Sat: 2.30pm.
Full details and tickets on the Playhouse website: http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/ghost-the-musical/edinburgh-playhouse/
Ghost the Musical on tour:
21 – 26 Nov 2016
0844 871 3014
28 Nov – 3 Dec 2016
0115 989 5555
2017 (Casting to be announced):
17 – 21 Jan
23 – 28 Jan
Hall for Cornwall
30 Jan – 4 Feb
0844 871 3023
6 – 11 Feb
0114 249 6000
13 – 18 Feb
20 – 25 Feb
27 Feb – 4 Mar
0844 871 7645
6 – 11 Mar
14 – 18 Mar
023 8071 1811
20 – 25 Mar
0844 871 7649
27 Mar – 1 Apr
0844 871 7648
3 – 8 Apr
01684 892 277
10 – 15 Apr
0844 871 3017
18 – 22 Apr
0844 871 7607