When the hero Sam gets killed near the beginning of “Ghost: the Musical” it seems like the best thing that could happen to such a cardboard character. Then something magical happens.
Suddenly he’s standing on the sidewalk a few feet away from his own corpse. The clever trick, seen at the Piccadilly Theatre in London, gets a round of applause. Soon Sam bumps into Oda Mae Brown, a black, cynical fake psychic. Her number “Are You a Believer?” is a hilarious series of gospel-music platitudes. In moments, the plot, the energy and the wit all rev up 13 gears or so.
It turns out that Oda Mae, unknown to herself, isn’t a fake after all. Sam starts talking to her, though she can’t see him.
“I’m hearing dead guys,” she wails into thin air. Things get worse for her. “I’m hearing dead white guys,” she wails even louder.
Sam wants Oda Mae to contact his grieving widow, Molly, and get revenge for his murder. Once this plot MacGuffin has been thrown into the mix, it spurs the writers to some stonking numbers. Act 1 closes with a cleverly constructed trio “I Had a Life” in which desperate Sam, confused Molly and the villain Carl twine conflicting musical motifs.
Diamonds and Furs
The highlight comes in Act 2 when Oda Mae unexpectedly receives $10 million as part of a scam to foil Carl’s evil plans. Chorus members drape her in furs, pass her a pair of diamond-studded dark glasses, and bring on some chic traveling trunks.
“I’m outta here,” trills Oda Mae, sung and acted with megawatt energy by Sharon D. Clarke, and she brings the house down in the process.
Naturally, her good heart wins out and she returns to help her friends.
The book, based on his own 1990 film script, is by Bruce Joel Rubin, and he finds just the right slots for numbers and ensembles. The music is by Dave Stewart (of the Eurythmics) and Glen Ballard. As well as some neat comedy songs, they provide a couple of ear-catching slow ballads too.
Direction is by Matthew Warchus, who has enormous fun with artifice and theatrical prestidigitation. When Sam walks through a closed door, the gasp of disbelief in the audience is as entertaining as the effect itself. Carl is whooshed around the stage when he dies and goes to hell. A letter magically folds itself up.
Moving digital panels and transparent projection scrims help the sets change from Molly’s Brooklyn apartment to Carl’s bank in the twinkling of an eye.
Richard Fleeshman shows off his six-pack torso and efficient singing as Sam, and Caissie Levy (Molly) has a belting voice with a good sweet core. Andrew Langtree does a nice line in slithery charm as Carl.
Even though those roles don’t offer as much interest as that of the smart-talking Oda Mae, the lovey-dovey main couple still manage to generate some warmth. The moment when Molly first believes she is truly in contact with her dead husband likely will strike a chord with anyone who has faced loss.
Immortal, it might not be. Terrific entertainment, it certainly is. Rating: ****.
Information: http://www.ghostthemusical.com/ or +44-844-871-7618.
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(Warwick Thompson is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)