When I reviewed Ghost after it came to London back in June, I wrote that I couldn’t imagine a new cast post-Levy/Fleeshman. Well, it’s happened; a press release today announced that Wicked‘s Mark Evans and How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria? finalist Siobhan Dillon will replace Richard Fleeshman and Caissie Levy as doomed couple Sam and Molly. Thankfully, my favourite member of the cast, Sharon D. Clarke, stays on as loveably batty medium Oda Mae Brown. Having seen Evans command the stage in last year’s Oklahoma! tour and Dillon shine most recently in the Soho Theatre’s EX, I’m actually quite excited about this casting choice. While both are a little more glossy than Levy and the Fleesh, I’m sure they can be roughed up a bit to fit in with this gritty, New York-y production.

As the year draws to a close, I would like to applaud Ghost for bringing a little magic into the West End in a time of tired concepts and cartoonish musicals. It has been slated by some for reproducing Bruce Joel Rubin’s 80s screenplay on the stage, but the illusions are innovative, the music interesting in its rock-pop quality and the emotion of the narrative perhaps even more raw than in the movie. Yes there’s a chorus that didn’t entirely agree with me and a few rogue musical numbers which didn’t enhance the story, but the central plot is mesmerising and Caissie Levy and Richard Fleeshman’s chemistry explosive.

The new cast will appear from 13 January 2012, with performances now booking until next October. It could be that Ghost is just commercial enough to stay afloat, despite its new score and ambitious staging – and I hope to be back there to see it succeed.

Ghost is at the Piccadilly Theatre (ghostthemusical.com)


It’s been a long time since I saw a show I was genuinely, hyperventilatingly excited about, but Ghost was just that. The website I write for, The Public Reviews, gave its recent Manchester run five stars, and I’m a huge fan of both the 1990 movie and female lead Caissie Levy. The original score was written by former Eurythmic Dave Stewart, with Glen Ballard (who wrote and produced Alanis Morrisette’s Jagged Little Pill), so is naturally of quite a pop-rock persuasion.

Firstly, I’d say seating choices will alter your experience of Ghost. I was lucky enough to be a friend’s freebie plus one, so we were right on the edge of the stalls, quite close to the stage. Many of the brilliant supernatural illusions were ever so slightly more visible from this viewpoint. I’d really like to go again and sit higher or more centrally, but it was still spine-tingling.

In case you haven’t seen the movie (DO IT), the story begins with sickeningly content couple Molly (Caissie Levy) and Sam (Richard Fleeshman), an artist and a banker, who have just bought their first apartment and moved in. Sam is tragically killed not long after, and Molly is left with only the comfort of Sam’s best friend Carl (Andrew Langtree) – but there is more to his death than she knows. Sam’s spirit is left to put things right with only the help of quirky and fraudulent psychic Oda Mae Brown (Sharon D Clarke.)

Even though it is early days, it is hard to imagine a new cast succeeding the unbeatable combination of Fleeshman and Levy. His tall, Superman physique and her petite boho quality are perfectly matched, as are his soulful voice with her rock-tinged belt. In life, their chemistry sizzles; in death, their connection persists. Even without the careful and spectacular staging and excellent direction by Matthew Warchus, much of the magic of Ghost lies in this pairing.

Levy makes me realise what I look for in a leading lady – utter control, confidence and security in her voice and character. She makes her often wistful and lonely numbers unpredictable and haunting, but you always feel comfortable with her taking the stage. She makes a difficult character, one preoccupied with mourning, fascinating to watch. Fleeshman has the hard job of holding many of the scenes together while ‘invisible’ to 99% of the other characters. His scenes with Oda Mae in particular are a real highlight, and he shows off musical ability (strumming a guitar onstage), comedic talent and a silky vocal tone that is both distinctive and well-suited to the character.

This is an updated Molly and Sam; don’t expect a pixie-cropped Demi or a copper-Adonis Swayze, because this is a whole new Ghost. This works fine in my opinion, as it freshens the characters and you are drawn into a whole new love story, though much of Bruce Joel Rubin’s excellent screenplay remains as the dialogue.

Sharon D Clarke sets the stage on fire with her hilarious, warm, sparkling interpretation of Oda Mae, the unique character originated by Whoopi Goldberg. She avoids pitfall number one by steering clear of doing a Whoopi impression, and her added gospel and disco numbers showcase this woman’s astonishing voice and stage presence. Again, God help the actor who has to step into her shoes.

Andrew Langtree smarms and sweats as the couple’s friend Carl, managing to be both sinister and a man way out of his depth. His ‘New Yoyk’ accent was a little studied and made him more of a caricature than he needed to be, but overall he handled his scenes brilliantly – even as a fan of the movie, I felt like I didn’t know where we stood with him.

Overall this main cast of four are practically perfection – their voices, their chemistry, the slickness of their direction. In the scenes where Sam is talking ‘through’ Oda Mae, no one misses a beat. However, there is also an unaccountably large and awkward ensemble, who appear at intervals for largely pointless group numbers.

I don’t wish to criticise them as performers; I’m acutely aware of how hard a West End ensemble works and how grateful they often are to be part of a new show. I just feel they are badly used; something just didn’t work for me. At times, Caissie Levy is centre stage singing something heartfelt, and there are suit-clad businessmen and women dancing oddly in the background.

Much of their purpose, from what I can glean, is to diplay the fast-paced world of Wall Street and add to the street and subway scenes, but not a line of their songs was memorable, and Ashley Wallen‘s choreography felt clunky and ill-fitting with the simplicity and soul of the main plot.

One use was as a backing choir for Oda Mae in her uptempo number in Act Two, which was obviously needed, but other than that I’m afraid I would have sacked the lot of them and started from scratch as a smaller, more focused musical. I think there is enough of a spectacle with the supernatural effects, and enough lightness and humour in the Oda Mae storyline to get even the most X Factor-fed audience member through it unscathed. Some might disagree.

Sean Ebsworth Barnes

The only moment where their presence truly offended me, was after Sam’s incredibly acted and cleverly-conceived death. We are left grieving with Molly for approximately eight seconds before a tap-dancing ghost (with a host of bizarre, historically-costumed spirits) comes to sing to Sam all about death. The only word I have for this is ‘Why?’ The song wasn’t even good.

In terms of the main characters though, there was just the right balance of music and dialogue, you cared just enough about the couple and saw just enough of Oda Mae’s antics – the central plot of this show is beautifully balanced.

Rob Howell‘s design (with projection design by Jon Driscoll) is for the most part excellent. Most of the scenery turns into a video screen, which is best used in the subway scenes and with views of New York from Sam and Carl’s office. However, it is overused, seemingly to justify having it. This could be scaled down, as the moody, blue-tinged sadness of Molly’s apartment scenes are some of the simplest and best. Again, the structure and different panels of the screens were more clearly visible from the stalls, which may have made it less effective.

To go with this visual display, the sound was also very loud in the stalls (although a friend in the Circle tells me she found it almost inaudible from there at first) so the team are obviously still ironing out the creases in these previews. There is a moving section of the stage which is used to great effect, and the flexible, projected scenery mean we can move from red-brick Brooklyn to seedy Harlem in seconds, great  for those who dislike clunky scene changes.

The smoke and mirrors of the afterlife provide some of the best bits of the show; Paul Kieve‘s illusions are carefully and lovingly conceived, and none of the death scenes were cheesy or overplayed. The score is not memorable, sadly – it does however suit and showcase the lovely vocals of Levy and Fleeshman, and the restrained ratio of songs to dialogue improves it. Stewart produced Stevie Nicks’ latest album, and the country-rock quality of his songs really suits the actors’ vocal tones.

One of the most pleasant surprises was that the producers got the rights to Unchained Melody. I’m not a fan of the song, but  it was appropriately and charmingly used, rather than in a crowd-pleasing, 80s-nostalgia way. Like the casting, it refreshes a visually iconic story so familiar to so many of us. The romance and the resolution of this stunning show are truly raw and moving, and it will hopefully introduce a whole new generation to the magical, original story of Ghost.


Warning: this trailer shows you quite a lot of the show!

*The performance I saw was a preview, and some aspects of the production may change before the show opens on 19th July.



January 9, 2011

One of the reasons I started West End Geek was that I became increasingly aware of a new breed of theatregoer that was young, enthusiastic and genuinely wanted to spend their money on seeing as many shows as possible. This is a generation that has nothing to do with the fusty, middle-aged white men writing reviews for the broadsheets, but who get excited about new talent, talk in terms of original casts, revivals and favourite leads, and who quite possibly perform themselves, be it Am-dram or training professionally. Joining Twitter last year, I found a buzzing community of people putting out 140-character reviews, reporting from opening nights and sharing news and gossip. This online wave of theatre-geekery has enabled us to come out of the closet, share our love of all things sparkly, perky and camp and discover fabulous voices and performances every day.

YouTube video Brandweer Nederweert

YouTube: hot stuff

Added to this is the wonder of YouTube. There are billions of videos out there by musical theatre fans; some are clever homages to certain shows, some behind-the-scenes nosy, some dodgily-recorded clips of shows. I’m not praising or promoting these bootleg vids, but it is darn useful to confirm whether you want to see a certain new lead, for instance. If you search around for something normal (a Wicked clip, for example) you’ll often find something crazy (someone has genuinely put together an ‘Elphaba-off’ – matching clips of the same ambitious parts of Defying Gravity sung by different actresses).  Here are ten vids you might enjoy – don’t worry, no Rachel Berry-style home performances…

Kerry Ellis and Brian May talk about her recent album, Anthems

Kez and Brian chat about the production process, cut in with lots of clips of her doing her thing. Always good to appreciate someone who is every bit as good live in the studio as the final cut.

Wickeder – Forbidden Broadway

Not strictly video, but this audio clip of the hilarious Wicked parody by the creators of witty cabaret Forbidden Broadway is an absolute geekfest. Not only are the vocalists spot on in their roasting of Idina and Kristin, but the lyrics are phenomenal and the tale of their competition for Broadway darling and Tony Award winner is brilliantly summarized.

Angeline sings Les Miserables

Hilarious because my sisters and I also sang along to this epic musical in the car as little-uns, 5-year-old Angeline gives a strong performance as Convict 1, Javert AND Jean Valjean while listening to the opening of the show. A WEG in the making.

Good Morning Voldemort

What do you get when you cross a crazed Harry Potter fan with a crazed Hairspray fan? This bizarre version of Tracy Turnblad’s belter of a song is oddly brilliant. Even if the miming is slightly hysterical.

Oklahoma Cast do Lady Gaga

Being on tour can do funny things to you. Luckily this cast’s dose of crazy was also ha-ha funny, as they recreated Lady Gaga’s Telephone video almost frame-by-frame. Some exceptional dancing, miming and direction here, a world away from Surrey with the Fringe on Top.

Lea Salonga’s audition for Miss Saigon

This is fascinating as a piece of musical theatre history; Lea Salonga was only 17 when she auditioned for the lead role in Miss Saigon (during the producers’ international search for a young Asian star) and her voice is already so beautiful and pure in this clip. A few months of rehearsal later, you can also see her promotional performance on Wogan as the show opened in 1989.

Legally Blonde on Broadway

Legally Blonde was one of the first musicals to use TV to increase its profile. MTV broadcast the whole production, available in parts on YouTube, and then created a casting show to find the next Elle Woods. This was the first time I’d seen a televised, well-filmed stage show, and I think it really works (without decreasing the appeal of the live version) – when it came to London I knew I wanted to see it.

Prop 8: The Musical

When California’s ‘Proposition 8’ was passed in 2008, revoking the right of same-sex couples to marry legally in the state, there was outrage throughout the entertainment industry as well as the gay community. Marc Shaiman decided to write a witty musical about the issue, and this genius clip stars Jack Black and Neil Patrick Harris among others.

Ghost: the musical preview

This hotly-anticipated musical has truly milked its online coverage, but luckily the songs sound fab. Watch my girl-crush Caissie Levy, Sharon D. Clarke and the creative team showcase the material on this film about their Abbey Road studio sessions.

Cheno on Glee

For anyone else who thought Kristin Chenoweth was the absolute highlight of Glee’s season 1 guest stars, this is a cute little insight into the filming of her first episode. For my all-time favourite, Chenoweth moment, see Taylor the Latte Boy.

Caissie Levy, of Hair (here and Broadway), Wicked (LA) and Rent (US tour) has just been announced as the female lead in the West End production of Ghost: the musical, opening summer 2011. Levy’s sultry voice was a big part of the charm of Hair for me, and when I checked out her background I wished I’d seen her as Elphaba.

I was looking forward to Ghost anyway, but as I think Levy has the profile to choose quality projects, this bodes well for the production. Now, how will they stage that pottery scene?

*Update* Further casting has been announced, in the form of Sharon D. Clarke (brilliant) as Oda Mae and Corrie‘s Richard Fleeshman (really?!), presumably as the hero Sam. I think I’ve said enough on TV stunt-casting so I’ll refrain from too much comment on that one. But I don’t think he’s got the pipes to match Caissie.