BWW Review: GHOST at Mogador
After an exciting season of Chicago, Mogador is introducing Parisian audiences to one of the very best musical adaptations, if not one of the most successful, of a famous movie: the much-loved Ghost from popular 90s American cinema.
With a well written book by Bruce Joel Rubin, based on his own movie screenplay (which he was initially reluctant to turn into a musical), and a splendid original pop score by Dave Stewart (of The Eurythmics fame) and Glen Ballard (author of many hit songs for Michael Jackson, among others), Ghost premiered in Manchester in March 2011.
Directed by Matthew Warchus and choreographed by Ashley Wallen, the show opened at the Piccadilly Theatre in the West End in summer 2011 and ran till October 2012. Besides the extraordinary performances of Caissie Levy and Richard Fleshman in the two lead roles, the stars of the original production were the inventive video and production designs by Jon Driscoll, illusions by Paul Kieve, and climatic lighting by Hugh Vanstone, all of which are absent from the new version just opening in Paris.
On Broadway in 2012, the show, despite its original leads and staging and 3 Tony nominations, was an undeserved flop, closing after only 136 performance (against 500 in London). Perhaps was it just one movie adaptation too many!
The London run was followed by an extensive UK tour (2013-2014), and there has also been productions in Australia, Denmark, and at the English Theatre in Frankfurt. So, fortunately, the musical has not been hurt by the Broadway debacle, and it seems to have found new life as a Stage Entertainment property. The production at Mogador is in fact a quasi-transfer of the Berlin production, which opened at Theatre des Westens in December 2017, where it ran through 348 performances.
The look of the show has changed radically, and it seems now to be more about the story than about the impressive special effects and visuals that characterized the original production. Bob Tomson's staging is much more intimate, focusing on the drama. Alistair David has also done a good job co-directing and choreographing, even though his work here, albeit similar to Ashley Wallen's, is less interesting than what he did for Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and The Sound of Music, both at the Open Air in Regent's Park in London.
There are absolutely no characters in the dance ensemble, which makes for robotic MTV-like dancing or the kind of polished-but-removed-from-the-story chorus-dancing found in many French musicals! Maybe this is also just because the 4 main characters don't ever dance at all!
The French lyrics, though faithfully translated by Nicolas Engel, don't come off as well as the English ones, something that unfortunately happens frequently with pop-oriented scores, and in this case it highlights the fact that some of the songs don't really move the plot along. Even with Moniek Boersma's emotional delivery, "Sans toi" doesn't make quite the point as does "With You", arguably one of contemporary musical theater's most beautiful ballads. Safely, "Unchained Melody" in the pottery-sex scene is kept in English!
The first-rate cast is really the strongest point of the production. Dutch born and trained Moniek really makes the part of Molly her own, especially considering that stepping into the shoes of the formidable Caissie Levy is no easy task.
Grégory Benchenafi is quite believable as Sam. Nominated for a Molière for his performance of Mike Brant, and more recently seen in Mistinguett at the Casino de Paris, he has the right good looks for the part. Canadian born Philippe Touzel is also well-cast as Carl. He's even better built than Grégory, and, unlike his counterpart in the move, his face naturally screams sexy villainy!
But, even though this is her a musical theater début and despite the fact that she's no great singer, the stand-up comedian Claudia Tagbo really steals the show as Oda Mae, holding the audience in the palm of her hand from her very first ovationed appearance in the part immortalized by Whoopi Goldberg. She will only be in the show till the end of January, however.
Though not exactly perfect, Ghost is really worth seeing and really makes sense as a musical, a hundred times more than a certain lame, movie exploitation, piece of trash based on another Patrick Swayze piece, whose name I won't even mention and which fortunately will never make it to Broadway!
It's too bad that the tap-dancing has disappeared from the number in the hospital ("Faut lâcher les tracas"), but it had already been cut before reaching Broadway. Still, I could have done without the mock-hiphop number "Focus", which takes place in the subway.
The new sets and costumes by Mark Bailey and lighting by Nick Richings are again less spectacular than the original's, but they actually serve the story better, enhancing the drama going on among the famous characters from the movie
If only because it is definitely more than just a movie on stage-in addition to the quality of its music and the brilliance of its cast-this Ghost deserves to be visited during its year-long residency at Mogador.