WHEN the national touring production of Ghost The Musical visited Leeds Grand Theatre last summer, the show was so hi-tech, it required more technicians than artists to tell
Bruce Joel Rubin’s stage adaptation of his romantic/comic/scary ghost fantasy.
For all Robert Readman's prowess as a set designer and his Aladdin's cave of all things theatrical in his chicken shed warehouse at Bubwith – soon to be featured on a show on Quest on August 20 apparently – his Pick Me Up Theatre company was never going to seek to match the futursitic, state-of-the-art bank of video and projection designs that recreated the famous subway carriage and station scenes from Jerry Zucker’s 1990 movie.
Pick Me Up's Ghost still has impressive lighting designs by Chris Speight and projection designs by Adam Moore, especially for the rainstorm, but director Robyn Grant has rightly placed the emphasis on the story of young love, death and to borrow that awful modern term, closure.
“I really wanted to create believable people and a real relationship,” said Robyn. “My vision was to stay away from glitz and glamour and to look at the truths of love, loss and everything human in between."
She applies this philosophy as soon as the audience enters the auditorium. The Righteous Brothers' Unchained Melody – the song from the infamous potter's wheel scene in the film – plays on a stop-start loop as the cast of ghosts, trapped in limbo between this world and the next, move in repetitive rhythms around the stage and down the aisles, each actor having created an invented obituary projected on the back wall.
The auditorium walls, meanwhile, are lined with chalk boards, whose words express cast members' thoughts about the story's themes; another means of breaking down the "fourth wall" to embrace the audience.
If Ghost is a celebration of the power of love and the need for humans to connect, then the most pleasing aspect of Pick Me Up's show is just how much the cast surpasses the technical aspect.
Joe Mellor is a name familiar to Leeds and Harrogate audiences, particularly for his work under director Louise Denison, and now York has the chance to enjoy his remarkable voice, with its stunning range, and his natural manner on stage, in the role of Sam Wheat, the Wall Street trader left for dead in a New York alleyway . He has the physical presence of a Michael Ball and is a star of the musicals in the making.
He and Lottie Henshall's Molly create an utterly believable relationship, one that has audience members reaching for hankies more than once. They bond well as lovers, their voices intertwining pleasingly in their duets. Fraser Wilkinson is impressive too as the duplicitious Carl Bruner; Lee West's scrap of a baddie, Willy Lopez, catches the tone too, while Jed Berry's choreography brings out the ghostly in the ghosts.
Comic relief could not be more comical or relieving than in the dynamic form of Emma Osman's phoney psychic Oda Mae Brown, more Whitney Houston than Whoppi Goldberg in stature but a scream from over-dressed head to toe.
Ghost The Musical, Pick Me Up Theatre, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, until Saturday, 7.30pm plus 2.30pm, Saturday. Box office: 01904 623568.