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Ghost: The Musical (On Tour)

September 14, 2016

Seen at the New Wimbledon Theatre at the afternoon performance on 10th September 2016.

For various reasons, I never saw the original London version at the Piccadilly Theatre, so, unlike (seemingly) most of the audience that afternoon, I have nothing to compare it with. I’m told that the original was a spectacular multi-media effort, with magical illusions to make the producer of “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’s” wand wilt.

According to the programme, this is a new version of the show, based on an American small-scale revival – and it is also designed for a national tour. So, I was prepared to accept the compromises… and there were. A superb sound design (Dan Samson) made up for Nick Riching’s rather spare lighting – notably lacking whenever an actor was condemned to leave up or down, alas – though mostly adequate. Mark Bailey managed to give us a sense of place with only minimal flat scenery and no projections, and a decent enough finale backdrop too.

Sadly, Richard Pinner’s illusions were reduced to the smallest scale, and those on the left of the auditorium emitted laughter at the “walking through the door (which conveniently has a sliding panel)” effect, and woeful “spirit leaving body” scenes. Also, could the budget not have stretched to authentic looking hospital and subway signage? Really disconcertingly poor artwork there.

The story itself is as gripping as the original movie, with enough sniffing from the audience around me to suggest the end found its mark. The first half has both pacing and choreography (Alistair David) issues, particularly in the ensemble dance numbers which fail to hide the lack of bodies for the scene and evoke no New York Street energy at all. From the emergence of fake psychic Oda Mae onwards however, things look up.

Oda Mae (Jacqui Dubois) is the real deal. Hilarious, all singing, all dancing and making the unlovable a real character, hers is the performance of the night. A nod to, for her acolyte, huge voiced Louisa (Tarisha Rommick).

For the men, this is Leo Sene’s evening, as evil a murderer as you’ll see on stage – an amoral triumph of characterisation. Notes too, for Sam Ferriday as Carl, his evil employer, and forlorn rapper Garry Lee Netley as the Subway Ghost.

So, with the supporting cast working hard, what of the leads, Sam and Molly? Andy Moss as Sam took a while to get comfortable and find his place on stage. His early scenes are sketched in, which doesn’t help, and the “big number” is hinted at then fizzles out at least twice (and, sadly does so again when its time finally comes). For all that, he’s a likable presence and a hint of real musical theatre ability happens when left alone on stage in the second half.

As Molly, Sarah Harding returned for the performance I saw, following treatment for a reported “Upper Respiratory Tract” infection – ironically” Miss Adelaide’s” complaint in “Guys and Dolls.” Ms Harding cuts a highly attractive figure (there is even an opportunity to observe her torso tattoos, for those into that sort of thing).

Her vocal skills could well have been affected by her problems earlier in the week, as she struggled with every higher note and found the “break” between high and low a struggle to negotiate. Theatre songs also require breathing and timing to transmit their message, and again, her health issues saw her pushed to make the required pauses and emphasis, which sadly proved beyond her capabilities at the time.

Probably down to the stress of it all, her songs were mostly delivered seated, in a rather “pop video” way, and her emotions were held firmly in check throughout, probably to prevent the exhaustion that performing a two and a half hour show after illness will surely cause. A little burst of dance near the end was a nice release for all, though. Still, it may be that the strain of unfamiliarity with musical theatre and its requirements are taking their toll early, with a substitution perhaps going to be required at some point if her health and abilities cannot be found.

In summary, this is an ensemble who try hard, has some outstanding cast members and a tale to tell which proved more than adequate reward for my cross-London trek.

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