Ghost – the Musical, Piccadilly Theatre, London

When special effects can't lift the spirit
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The Independent Culture

Is there anything much to be gained dramatically by turning the synthetic but likeable hit movie Ghost (1990) into a stage musical? With a score by Dave Stewart of The Eurythmics, book and lyrics by Bruce Joel Rubin who wrote the original film and a production of spectacular visual dynamism by Matthew Warchus, this much-hyped show suggests that the answer is in the negative. The movie strikes an attractive balance between tear-jerking sentiment and the tongue-in-cheek charm of a nail-biting comedy-thriller.

This being a musical, the show is over-weighted to the first of elements. The action keeps being held up while Molly hollers out yet another number about how much she misses Richard Fleeshman's hunky, but bland Sam, or how she needs to suspend her disbelief in his trapped-between-two-worlds spirit life. Caissie Levy sings these songs with power but she cannot disguise the banality of their lyrics nor the sub-rock sameyness of the music. Like the film, the show at several points invokes "Unchained Melody". Its soaring plangency puts to shame the rest of the score and provides one genuinely lump-in-throat moment when Sam and Molly sing an overlapping duet of it, through the agency of Oda Mae's body, they can cradle each other in a poignantly intimate dance.

You are left with very some hit-and-miss comedy and brilliant visuals and special effects. Sharon D Clarke is hilarious as the formerly fake and now reluctantly genuine psychic Oda Mae. Stalking over a mountain of expensive luggage, with a black-sequined posse of servants, she blasts the roof off with "Outta Here", her fantasy about the high life with a million dollars. Offsetting that, though, there is the mood-destroying mistake of the witless tap-dancing vaudeville of disgruntled spooks who greet Sam to the other side.

Paul Kieve's illusions thrill as our hero, say, melts into thin air. Transparent, rearrangeable LED screens swarm with stock-market numbers, as a chorus of bankers perform thrusting dances, or they cause a lurch in the stomach as they plunge us into hurtling subway trains where Matrix-like movement is unsettlingly married to visual distortion. It's all seamlessly inventive and full of synaesthetic pleasures, but it can't fully compensate for the shallowness in other departments. I'm afraid that my belief in this show as a bona fide piece of musical theatre had given up the ghost some time before Molly has to give up hers.

To 28 January (0844 871 7618)