Re-review: Ghost the musical, Piccadilly

“It’s just relief to suspend my disbelief”

It feels a bit like I’m cursed when it comes to Ghost the Musical. I booked it at the beginning of the year to see the original cast before they went to Broadway and Sharon D Clarke injured herself so I missed her and this time round, eager to see Mark Evans’ acting and musical talent / damn fine abs *delete as appropriate, we arrived at the theatre to find his understudy was on. It is not the end of the world when that happens of course but it is sometimes a disappointment when one is looking forward to seeing a particular person (though it helps that there’s videos like this to fall back on) and as it turned out, when I saw the name of the understudy – Spencer O’Brien – I was actually quite pleased as he is someone I have great residual affection for as he was in the cast of the superlative Salad Days the Christmas before last.

And though my feelings about the show were decidedly mixed when I saw it last – review here – I’d listened to the soundtrack quite a bit since then and discovered that it really is a grower. I really like a good proportion of it and so was quite happy to revisit the show, with the bonus of a new cast and a companion that had not seen it before, and in the end I found that I actually enjoyed it much more. The key for me and the soundtrack helped immensely here, is to think of it as a chamber musical, a small intimate piece essentially for four characters, and let the rest simply glide by in a rush of neon light and slow-motion walking.  

Musically, there’s some really interesting work that passed me by somewhat first time round, the repeated motfis and fragments of songs layering up as the show progresses and the multi-voice songs really work well in continuing character lines. But the thing I loved the most was the way in which hints of ‘Unchained Melody’ were interpolated throughout the show, if you listen carefully it reappears at regular intervals yet never overstays its welcome and in its final incarnation in the gorgeously tender dance, it becomes the perfect lyrical fit – ghost Sam sings “I’ve hungered for your touch” with such longing that several more tears fell down my face second time round.

And dramatically, it seemed to work better somehow. I appreciated Warchus’ decision to have an abbreviated pottery scene much more and being prepared for the naffness of the dancing inured me a little to its effects. Siobhan Dillon’s softer, more romantic take on Molly appealed to me much more than Caissie Levy ever did and making his debut appearance as Sam, Spencer O’Brien was most impressive, a nice balance of boisterous manliness and tender affection as the wronged spectre. Sharon D Clarke was all I hoped she’d be as Oda Mae, a genuinely vivacious presence throughout and Paul Ayres deserves special mention as he was acting up, extremely well too, as the villain of the piece Carl.

So once again I find that my first impressions of musicals aren’t always as reliable as all that and that some soundtracks definitely bear listening to a few times more before one’s opinions are set in stone. And given that the end date for Ghost the Musical has now been fixed, you haven’t got long left to go and make up your own mind.    

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Programme cost: £7
Booking until 6th October

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