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Theatre Review: Ghost--The Musical ***

Scott Purvis reviews a kitschy production that has a strong cast and manages to pack an emotional punch.

Casper the Friendly Ghost would have had a very different afterlife if he'd had a pottery wheel...

Closely following the plot of the much-loved 1990 movie, this already kitsch 2011 musical follows the life and death and afterlife of New York banker Sam Wheat and the crushing impact which his loss has on his girlfriend, Molly. After being shot in an alleyway, Sam becomes trapped between this world and the next, communicating with his lost love through a charlatan clairvoyant and exposing the shocking truth behind his sudden death.

Whilst Ghost: The Musical is as watchable as the Swayze film, musically it is almost entirely forgettable, a surprising fact given that it was written by the Eurythmics' Dave Stewart and "Man in the Mirror" co-writer Glen Ballard. The underscoring sounds like a Friday edition of Sunset Beachand, lyrically, it owes more to a rhyming dictionary than to Stephen Sondheim.

Of course, this isn't theatre's most intellectually challenging piece, nor is its dialogue worthy of Old Hamlet's Ghost - there are frequent moments when Bruce Joel Roben's book has all the cleverness and subtlety of All Dogs Go to Heaven, and the entire thing seems coated, tonally, in a thick, shiny plastic film.

Does it matter? Not really. This is theatre which has taken an old video cassette from its mum's garage, held the tape up to the light and let the warm nostalgia glow onto its audience's faces. Whilst it might be as corny as a night at the cinema with the Jolly Green Giant, the end of the piece had the audience audibly sobbing, dazzled by the near-spiritual experience of Nick Riching's transcendent lighting.

The evening is further saved by a strong cast. Niall Sheehy is adorably loveable as the deceased Sam, an instantly endearing presence who hits every high-note in "Unchained Melody" like a third Righteous Brother. Rebekah Lowings, too, finds beauty in grief as his mourning girlfriend - her breath-taking performance of "With You", a song arguably amongst the best ballads of the decade, sets the air alight with longing and pain and love and desperation. The result is an emotionally charged evening with the sound and spectacle of a Meatloaf video.

Against the melodrama, the flashy magic and projections which the previous production relied so heavily on have been shrunk from Siegfried and Roy to Paul Daniels proportions. Still, Mark Bailey's set designs remain spectacular, crafting dramatic cityscapes which give the piece realism amongst the supernatural and giving the piece an appropriately cinematic feel as it speeds along at the pace of a police car.

Although Ghost: The Musical can feel as weightless as a spectre, its insistence that we recognise the profound pain of losing a loved one redeems it from becoming a purgatory of predictable pop. This is a production which finds soul in our deepest fears and shows us them in the broken heart of a broken relationship, an ultimately emotionally engaging theme park ride of light and sound and heart.

Runs until March 30that the Glasgow Kings before continuing its tour.

Tags: theatre

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