Ghost (Melbourne, 2016)
Three years after it was first scheduled to arrive, Ghost the musical comes to Australia. To many its initial cancellation wasn’t a shock – out of all the shows we could get, Ghost?! The show that lasted only four months on Broadway? When we still hadn’t had Matilda, The Book of Mormon, or about twenty other superior musicals? Problems with transporting the intricate set were the official reason the show was cancelled back in 2013, and many probably thought it would never turn up. It did, and was it worth it? Maybe.
I’ve never seen the film, but many will be familiar with the story of Ghost. Loved up couple Molly (Jemma Rix) and Sam (Rob Mills) start to make a home together before Sam is tragically shot in a bungled robbery. He remains as a ghost – unable to be seen or heard by Molly – and realises her life is in danger. He finds a dodgy psychic, Oda Mae Brown (Wendy Mae Brown) to help him communicate with Molly. There’s lots of hands going straight through objects, some sensual pottery making, and some Righteous Brothers to get you in the mood.
Unfortunately, in many ways it’s all too easy to mock Ghost. This is what those twits who broadly claim they “hate musicals” expect all musicals to be like. Trying to be dramatic amidst random songs that set an uneven tone with hugely lame moments interspersed throughout. In the first scene Molly and Sam have sex – images of bodies appear on the screen above, with a close up of a bum. This show really is asking to be torn apart.
In the first few scenes it looked like this would be a surefire flop. It’s uneven, going from cutesy coupledom to a scene in a bank with questionable choreography (the notion of bankers busting a move on their way to work requires further suspension of disbelief than anything else in the show). However, the show soon settles into a groove and has its positives. Jemma Rix finally gets to wash off the green paint FOR GOOD (fans will get it) and play a role other than Wicked’s Elphaba and she is in fine form once again. Her vocals are better than Broadway and West End star Caissie Levy. However, it is Wendy Mae Brown (who eerily has almost the same name as her character) who steals the show. With a presence larger than life, she brings the house down with her comedic delivery and a voice that seems to be sent by some higher power.
The effects are impressive (the set has now been changed for tours) with the screen put to good use (minus the unnecessary bums) and some cool tricks, such as Sam going through a closed door. The score by Dave Stewart and Glen Ballard is actually half-decent, though it’s not up there with the best and I can only recall one song aside from the famous ‘Unchained Melody’.
And then there’s Rob Mills. We know he can do comedy. Against expectations he impressed in both Wicked and Legally Blonde. He can do the shallow player role well. And he can sing – in that boyband sort of way. But he is not worthy of a dramatic role. He does well on the vocals, but in the acting stakes he is often cringeworthy as Sam. At one point I was almost overwhelmed by the tragedy of the story – I was nearly in tears. But then as Millsy tried to desperately touch someone and his hand supposedly went straight through them, I suddenly wanted to piss myself laughing. Meanwhile, Mills’ Wicked understudy, Mike Snell, stars in a small production at Chapel off Chapel where he is too good for the show he’s in. Where is the justice in that?
Ghost does provoke an emotional response, and it’s not a complete waste of money. I noticed a poster outside the theatre with a reviewer’s quote: “If you only see one musical this year, make it Ghost”. DO NOT TAKE THIS ADVICE. In one of the most crowded years in musical theatre in memory, this should certainly not be top of the list. And to suggest you would choose this over Matilda is a borderline criminal offence. I then realised the quote was from an Adelaide publication. So yes, if you live in a city that gets no other new musicals, it might be your best bet. For the musical theatre capital, however, it’s just likely to get lost in a sea of superior work.
Ghost is playing at the Regent Theatre until Saturday 12th March, before continuing its national tour in Sydney and Perth.