Society: Centre Stage London
Performance Date: 16/06/2015
Ghost – the Musical
Paul Johnson | 18 Jun 2015 18:27pm
Putting on the first amateur production of ‘Ghost, the musical’ was always going to be a challenge on all sorts of levels. The hit romantic fantasy film was nominated for five academy awards and was the top grossing film of 1990. Its popularity has remained, and so any performance will bring in an audience who have certain expectations and preconceived notions about not only characters but their favourite scenes and moments in the story.
The fact that the storyline demands magical moments where people rise from the dead and become ghosts, walk through doors and make inanimate objects move is something that high budget West End productions can throw lots of money at, but by its very nature demands something a little more inventive in a smaller scale production somewhere like the Bridewell Theatre.
4 paired sets of Moving Head LEDs blinding the audience was perhaps not the best way to open a production and in fact seemed to serve little purpose and I would have preferred something that was a little less likely to begin the evening with a blinding headache! However, this gripe aside the show moved on quickly to create the scene in the newly acquired Brooklyn loft apartment with its green chaise longue and orange refrigerator and the opening numbers introduced the leads effectively before moving on to a pacey and well-choreographed scene on Wall Street. The majority of dance numbers were energetic, slick and engaging, however the scene in the hospital with a slightly eclectic range of white costumes accessorized with silver scarves seemed rather limp in comparison and later on attractive as the blue handled umbrellas were they seemed to serve little obvious purpose.
Setting for this piece was also always going to be a testing process as the plot moves from banks to cafes, apartments to subways and back again. Initially the smooth scene changes, carefully choreographed to be embedded as the show took place seemed like a great idea and I enjoyed seeing the scenes morph from one to another. However as with many a good idea there can sometimes be too much of a good thing and I was finding that some of the scenes were so short the whole became a little disjointed and perhaps some of the appearances of said orange fridge, slightly flimsy screens inching across the set or the ubiquitous occasional table with one chair slowed down the pace of the production and by the second half was leaving me a little weary!
Great ensemble moments like the subway and the lift were evidence that this company are perfectly able to create a sense of place without the use of excessive furniture and these moments worked brilliantly and created a real sense of individual characters within the group.
There were also some good examples of simple but effective staging for some of the supernatural scenes. Books pushed off shelves from behind, headlights to represent cars, smoke, slightly overdone but nonetheless effective, to mask the body being loaded onto a stretcher, mysteriously moving cups and bags and my personal favourite the quick change of doors to one the ghostly Sam can pass through, helped to create the illusion that we were in a paranormal world.
This is a talented company and the two leads did their best to create characters who are in fact quite one dimensional. Perhaps it is the strangely bland nature of Dave Stewart and Glen Ballard’s songs which seem eminently forgettable alongside classics like ‘Unchained Melody’, which mean that there is less scope for the actors to really build on the characterisation.
Michael Scott Wiseman as Sam turned in a strong performance and we were convinced by his inability to articulate his love in words when alive and the intensity and torment he felt when he thought his girlfriend was in danger. The chemistry and connection between the lovers was convincing from the beginning. Emma Newman gave a powerful and poignant performance as the grieving artist unable to move on with her life. She created just the right sense of melancholy and both performers had strong singing voices which blended together well in the romantic duets.
Dan Geller and Antonio Oliveira proved genuinely menacing as the villains of the piece, particularly the way that Geller’s Carl seemed so easily believeable. A little quiet at times, he nonetheless managed to portray a man who had not really intended things to go the way they had, but having set out on this path was going to pursue it to the end in a callous attempt to be rich. Oliveria’s Willie Lopez was suitably heartless and unconcerned at the accidental death of the man whose wallet he was supposed to steal and alongside Sam we felt for Molly when he was contemplating how attractive she is as he plans to return to her flat.
Perhaps the character who is least credible is the subway ghost, played by Richard Staplehurst. Full of bitterness and despair, possessive of his personal space, we never really fathom why he is so aggressive or why he changes his mind and decides to help Sam. He is a character who is never given an opportunity to develop and seemed to over emphasise each line, including his big number in the second half ‘Focus’. A little more variation in his delivery might have made him a more empathetic character.
The ghosts, Oda Mae’s sidekicks and the members of the ensemble worked together to create a visually interesting and well realised set of characters, however it was Oda Mae herself, Melissa Minton-Djoumessi, who stole the show for me. The sassy, vibrant fake medium lifted the performance to another level when she came on stage. A richly, expressive voice she brought vitality to a show which is inherently schmaltzy. Her scene in the bank where Sam leads her through the process of closing Rita Miller’s account was beautifully performed and we shared her pain in the lovely moment where she held on to the cheque before having to finally pass it on to charity.
A production that revolves around a love story where one of the characters is a ghost is asking their audience to suspend a great deal of disbelief and perhaps this particular musical would not work if it were not for people’s familiarity and affection for the original film. Despite the excellent musicianship of Benjamin Thiele-Long and his band the songs themselves are not particularly catchy, however much of the choreography was lively and engaging and although the cast could have picked up on their cues a little more quickly on occasion as a whole the evening was very enjoyable. Max Dylan Blackman’s illusions worked well and the costumes, by Beth Morris, generally created an air of authenticity and place. Director, Matthew Price, is to be congratulated on putting together an extremely successful show which on the whole presented light hearted sentimentality with pace, energy and enthusiasm.
- : admin
- : 16/06/2015