Review by Eden Caceda
There are many expectations going into Ghost The Musical at Sydney’s Capitol Theatre on opening night. Bruce Joel Rubin’s adaptation of his own film from 1990 is a gamble in a huge way – chatter outside the auditorium centers on the legacy left behind by Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore and Whoopi Goldberg and anticipation is high to see if this production can successfully translate such a film icon to the stage and retain the spirit of the original.
Many audience members will be split on the final product, though it’s safe to say Joel Rubin tries not to rock the boat too much and sticks to the familiar story without much new creativity. For one, the musical uses many projector and video techniques, not just on the scenes where Sam is a ghost, but introducing the play through a bizarre establishing shot through New York City and overuse of background screens during Sam and Carl’s song about working in the city are some examples of how the musical is done in such a way to draw parallels to a film.
But for diehard fans of the original, this production adheres closely to the original screenplay. At the centre of the story is Wall Street banker Sam Wheat (Rob Mills) and passionate artists Molly Jensen (Jemma Rix), with their love tested after Sam is randomly killed after a night out. Prior to this point the musical is incredibly stale, with the relationship between Sam and Molly not as organic as in the film. In fact a majority of the first half of the first act is tedious and clunky, with it picking up in the second half, with the story heading in a more fluid direction.
Director Matthew Warchus obviously makes an effort to appeal to the fans of he original film and goes above and beyond to provide the highest production value and give off a live-cinematic experience. There are sweeping lights, projections of the train and graphics to make this stage experience much more “modern” and for the 21st century Ghost fanatic. Despite this, the changeover between scenes never seems jolted and the movement on the stage is delightfully refined. Sadly none of the songs featured throughout are highlights of the show and are shockingly stale.
While Mills and Rix are the leading characters, things really get going when crowd favourite Oda Mae Brown (Wendy Mae Brown) comes into the mix. In the role that got Whoopi Goldberg an Oscar, Wendy Mae Brown, who also shares the same last name as the character, too is the highlight of this production. Oda Mae’s sassiness and voice raises the roof and provides moment of musical excellent and comedy gold, as Wendy plays the charlatan psychic who Sam communicates with. Indeed these insertions of humour elevate the show and no doubt add to satisfaction at the end of the show.
Sam’s co-worker Carl (David Roberts) overplays his character and there are moments when his dialogue is so blunt and poorly written that one has to wonder what the musical creators were thinking when bringing this character to life on the stage. Likewise, whether through the writing or acting, there is an unbelievable lack of chemistry between any of the characters and at times the dialogue feels abrupt and ingenuine. This also definitely applies to the flirty/love scenes between Molly and Sam, with Mills and Rix struggling to make their relationship seem real.
Unfortunately Mills struggles with the all-important Unchained Melody, but is solid in all of his other songs. Rix is terrific in all her songs, but you can’t help but wish she was in something of better material. The ensemble are jerky and uninspired, mostly wasted in this production in useless chorus numbers and boring choreography.
All in all, Ghost The Musical is for the fans and the audience members who can quote much of its material. This work doesn’t aim to provide much originality nor derive too far from the source material, as it is aware that doing so would turn patrons away. Regardless of its glitzy staging, attractive leads, mass marketing and riding off the back of a seminal classic, Ghost The Musical is missing the heart and soul that made us fall in love with Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore and Whoopi Goldberg in the first place.
When: 18th March – 14th May 2016
Where: Capitol Theatre, SYDNEY
Tickets: $120.15 – $136.46 Premium; $95.68 – $120.15 A Reserve; $65.10 – $77.33 B Reserve
Info: Wheelchair accessible; PG suitable