Sunday, July 17, 2011

A couple of weeks ago Owen and I went to see the new film-to-stage musical version of GHOST at the Piccadilly Theatre.I can't say I am a big fan of the film which always seemed to me to be a perfectly amiable if unbalanced star-vehicle which somehow seemed to hit a nerve with the public and gave a whole new lease of life to the lugubrious UNCHAINED MELODY by The Righteous Brothers. Unsurprisingly, this is also the only memorable song out of the stage show.

I have just read the chapter on DO I HEAR A WALTZ in Stephen Sondheim's book of collected lyrics "Finishing The Hat" and he writes about the problematic "why" musical. DO I HEAR A WALTZ was a musical he co-wrote with Richard Rodgers based on Arthur Laurents play "The Time of The Cuckoo" (Laurents also wrote the book of the musical). It is Sondheim's contention that the musical failed as it had no real reason to be written as the original play had done all that was needed in that form. If they had an original take on the material it might have been worthwhile but no - they presented a play interrupted by songs. The same problem is inherent in practically all the recent film-to-stage productions - apart from XANADU which had the good sense to lampoon the whole premise.The book by Bruce Joel Rubin (who won an Oscar for his original film script) sticks doggedly to the already meagre plot - there are only five main roles - so if you have seen the film you will know the outcome from the get-go - yep, it's still *him*.

The score by Dave (Eurythmics) Stewart and Glen (Alanis Morissette) Ballard is ever-present but isn't memorable - the nearest song that breaks the generic pop theatre-score sound is the 2nd act belter for Sharon D. Clarke's Oda Mae which sounds like it could have come from the Eurythmics album "The King and Queen of America" with it's faux Big American sound.The male cast members are ok but not inspiring, the show's strength lies in the two female performers. In the role which won Whoopi Goldberg an Academy Award, Sharon D. Clarke is certainly in good voice as the sham spiritualist but she is not an inherently funny performer so the comedy scenes are played with a slightly forced air.

For me, the main reason to see the show is Caissie Levy as Molly, the widow who refuses to stop believing. As she proved in last year's HAIR revival, Caissie has a delightful stage presence and a powerful voice, she sprinkles her effortless quality on all her numbers, in particular her sad ballad "With You".The choreography of Ashley Wallen relies a little too much on the stuttering slow-motion movement so beloved of pop videos and stadium pop choreography but it fills the stage well and the combined visuals of Hugh Vanstone's lighting and Jon Driscoll's video projections always make the show arresting to watch.

So for the most part I sat watching the show, letting it all wash over me like a classy firework show - and then something most peculiar happened. In the last scene of the show it suddenly all came together! Director Matthew Warchus finally pulled off a genuine, emotionally affecting theatrical moment which had the audience snuffling and prompting a huge ovation - and sending the audience out on an emotional high.I guess that in itself will ensure a successful run - it's just a shame the whole show could not have been infused with the genuine magic of that final scene.

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