The autumn season at Milton Keynes Theatre gets off to a really spectacular start with the first of the big musicals to blow in this week.
Ghost The Musical, set for a two week run, is everything a winning show should be. There’s an old fashioned love story, some very high tech wizardry and a heavy sprinkling of theatre magic. You’ll walk out with that life affirming feeling, a tear in your eye, and a lump in your throat – oh, and Unchained Melody stuck in your brain.
The story follows pretty much to the now iconic movie, Ghost, which saw young Demi Moore play a potter called Molly who lived a near idyllic existence with New York banker Sam (Patrick Swayze) until one day he’s murdered when a mugging goes wrong.
Unable to leave this world until he knows Molly is safe, Sam enlists the help of a reluctant psychic (the larger than life Whoopi Goldberg) to act as a go-between so that he can still communicate with his lost love.
None of that is a plot spoiler because pretty much everyone knows the story – which includes a now historic and much mocked scene when dear Demi shapes a pot with the help of her ghostly husband.
Bruce Joel Rubin’s stage play doesn’t falter from that well- trodden path. Indeed, the story is enhanced by Dave Stewart and Glen Ballard’s memorable music and lyrics (particularly the powerful Suspend My Disbelief/ I Had A Life medley which ends the first half).
There’s some very clever sleight-of-hand and misdirection, that produces dazzling special effects, and a lot of emotionally-charged encounters between the two lovers.
Stewart Clarke (hard to believe that he’s only 22) is ruggedly handsome as Sam and there was an audible sigh in the audience when he took off his vest (it’s an American thing) to reveal a very fine physique that has definitely been enhanced since I saw the show at the start of the tour. I’m pretty sure we would forgive bankers anything if they all looked as hunky as Stew.
He spends most of the show dead but that doesn’t stop him wailing for Molly or learning a trick or two of his own to enable him to save her. His movements are superbly choreographed (courtesy of Ashley Wallen) to make you believe that he really can put his hand through a door or piece of furniture.
Playing opposite him can be hard for Rebecca Trehearn (and indeed the other cast members) because, of course, being dead, no-one can see him. Yet the two leads spend almost the entire show on stage together.
She is put through the wringer when her world collapses (sob) but it doesn’t stop her turning in a compelling dramatic performance and delivering show-stopping songs.
But what lifts the entire production onto a different astral plane is the comic performance of Wendy Mae Brown in Goldberg’s scene-stealing role of Oda Mae Brown. She makes her entrance just when you think things are getting too maudlin and it’s impossible not to love her.
Her two “Psychic Sisters” Clara and Louise (Karelene Wray and Keisha Atwell) have knock-out cameos (great voices ladies) but all eyes are on the outrageous Oda Mae who goes from fleecing the vulnerable to discovering that she has a real talent.
One of the big special effects takes place on a tube and it gives Stevie Hutchinson a memorable moment as a rather belligerent Subway Ghost who resents the newcomer trying to take his pitch.
Most of his dialogue was in rap but the sound quality generally was muffled during spoken dialogue which made it difficult to catch everything that was said on opening night.
The musical numbers are big production pieces accompanied by a well drilled ensemble.
It’s hard not to get emotional about Ghost. The finale goes all out to leave you sobbing. Sam and Molly make a gorgeous couple who prove, if nothing else, that love can stretch beyond life itself. I feel a tear welling up inside me.