Ghost the Musical was performed by third year BA Musical Theatre students from the Guildford School of Acting at the Ivy Arts Centre, Guildford.
Star rating: four stars ★ ★ ★ ★
Ghost the Musical, with book and lyrics by Bruce Joel Rubin and music and lyrics by Dave Stewart (of Eurythmics fame) and Glen Ballard, has gone far since its Manchester premiere four years ago, transferring to the West End and Broadway, and subsequently to national tours and other international productions, with its next stop set to be Australia at the start of 2016.
As a choice for a drama school show it proves doubly challenging, courting comparison not just with the recent professional productions, but also with the celebrated 1990 film starring Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore on which it is based. Nonetheless, Guildford School of Acting’s Ghost the Musical, superbly directed by Adam Lenson, rises to this challenge admirably.
Musically, Ghost the film is best known for ‘Unchained Melody’ (Alex North and Hy Zaret), popularised by the Righteous Brothers. In GSA’s production it was expertly rendered by Taite-Elliot Drew as Sam Wheat, accompanying himself on guitar in a heartwarming early scene. Perhaps so as not to detract from this impressive performance, the song’s brief reprise in the second half – during the potters wheel scene so iconic in the show’s cinematic antecedent – was refreshingly understated.
The GSA cast comprised a consistently strong set of principals, headed by Drew and by Jessica Paul, who perfectly captured Molly Jenson’s oscillating position between scepticism of, and belief in, her otherworldly guardian angel. Edward Hewlett portrayed effectively the many sides of Carl Bruner, as (ostensibly) convivial best friend to Sam and sympathetic companion to his widow, making Carl’s duplicity all the more unexpected for those audience members not already familiar with the plot.
Channelling her inner Whoopi Goldberg, Bernadette Bangura as the charlatan psychic Oda Mae Brown seemed to steal the show in her scenes of comic relief, ably assisted by sidekicks Courtney Bowman (as Clara) and Sophie Kandola (as Louise) who served to augment her effervescent mystique. The ensemble was also well deployed for a musical centred on such a small number of main characters, Claira Vaughan’s choreography featuring in several spectacular dance routines that showcased the likes of the multi-talented Lewis McBean as the Hospital Ghost.
The five-piece band under the musical direction of Tom Attwood, together with Yvonne Gilbert’s imaginative sound design, brought the otherworldly individuals convincingly to life, as well as providing a suitably menacing soundscape for the show’s less pleasant characters, very capably interpreted by Aran MacRae as Willie Lopez and Alex Ryland-Jones as the Subway Ghost. Some ingenious workarounds had been devised to reproduce the special effects on a drama school stage, and the various illusions and misdirections were particularly successful for their simplicity and the impeccable timing with which they were executed.
One observation I might make was that I had expected there to be more chemistry between the romantic leads; for me, Sam’s senseless killing is made all the more harsh because he and Molly loved one another very much. But this may have been an interpretive decision in that the performance was kept on the light side, while nonetheless remaining sensitive, given a story fundamentally rooted in tragedy, heartbreak, and bereavement.
Ironically, that this production did not overly dwell on the deeply emotional aspects of Ghost the Musical seems to have had the effect of capturing the imagination of audience members all the more poignantly. GSA’s show met with a standing ovation from teary-eyed spectators the moment it ended, and rightly so.