Following on from the success of their Wizard Of Oz spectacular in the spring, Shrewsbury Musical Theatre Company have returned with something new and different.
For someone with little knowledge of the musical based on the iconic Ghost movie, starring Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore and Whoopi Goldberg, I didn’t really know what to expect, but this contemporary production is creative and imaginative and took me on a roller-coaster journey of emotions as I witnessed the story of two of its main characters, Sam and
Molly, beautifully portrayed by Benjamin Connor and Jessica Knowles.
Their chemistry as a couple seems real from the start, and boy, can they sing! Benjamin’s cheeky performance of ‘Unchained Melody’ is counterbalanced later on with powerful performances of songs such as ‘I Had A Life’, after he is killed by a mugger and his ghost is trapped between worlds. The sentiment and feeling of loss is strong in all of Jessica’s songs, but true melancholy was felt across the audience during her moving performance of the haunting ballad, ‘With You’. I was particularly impressed with Jessica’s skills at the potter’s wheel, then I read in the programme afterwards that she’d been for some pottery tuition specifically for the role. That’s dedication!
Dan Wrench gives a glorious portrayal of Carl’s character and shows us that not all is as it seems. He gives a strong vocal performance in each of his musical numbers, particularly ‘More’, accompanied by the hustling Ensemble of city workers. It is worth noting that this is a rather busy Ensemble. In addition to office workers and ghosts, many of them double up as individual characters throughout the production, and I can’t begin to imagine how they coped with some of their super-quick costume changes!
Scott Sutherland and Ami Price are the perfect double act as the two friendly Hospital Ghosts who introduce Sam to the spirit world with their jazzy performance of ‘You Gotta Let Go Now’, surrounded by other apparitions from previous eras. The costumes are stunning.
Another spectre who helps Sam is the Subway Ghost – a mysterious, angry character with an unknown back story – fantastically played by Simon Muxworthy. I didn’t expect a rap in a musical of this nature but that’s exactly what ‘Focus’ is, and an ambitious one, to say the least!
Dodgy psychic, Oda Mae Brown is played by the very talented Diane Drummond. She’s sassy and soulful and her comic timing fills the auditorium with laughter. Her two side-kicks, Louise and Clara (TJ Taylor and Aimee Sellars) add their own share of sass, humour and gorgeous vocals when they join her for the Gospelstyle ‘Are You A Believer?’. Her other big number, ‘I’m Outta Here’, with a kaleidoscope of characters from the Ensemble, has the audience rocking in the aisles as Oda Mae dreams of how she plans to spend the ten million dollars in her clutches!
Crayg Wellbeloved’s villainous Willie Lopez is as intimidating as it gets, and his Hispanic accent seems pretty authentic. On the subject of accents, the production is filled with authentic-sounding American accents and it’s easy to forget the performers are a group of Brits from all walks of life.
The sets and the innovative, moving, rear projection scenery help create a real feel for the ever-adapting landscape, from New York skyline to noisy subway station. At first glance it might all seem simple but effective, but I imagine the logistics of the illusions and the technical elements of this production must have been challenging.
Despite a few inevitable opening night hiccups, SMTC’s Ghost The Musical has everything… Romance, danger, heartbreak, mystery, the supernatural, laughter, great music and, most of all, emotion. I defy anyone to come away without, at least, a lump in their throat! The standing ovation I witnessed at the end said it all!
Reviewed by Nick Gawthrop
Walker Theatre, Theatre Severn, 20th October 2022