New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Monday 19th September, 2016
The musical by Bruce Joel Rubin, Dave Stewart and Glen Ballard gets a new lease of life from Bill Kenwright in this new touring production. Gone are the gliding TV screens I found a distraction in the show’s previous incarnation; instead the action is stripped down. It’s low-tech and old-school and to my mind the story benefits from this approach immensely, allowing the actors to come to the fore. Scenes like Sam’s death and the subway ghost’s anger are simply but effectively handled by director Bob Tomson. In fact, Tomson handles every aspect of the tale well, be it comedy, drama, thriller, supernatural, or just plain romantic.
Former Hollyoaks heartthrob Andy Moss is no stranger to coming back from the dead (his TV character Rhys reappeared as a ghostly figure in the soap, a symptom of another character’s psychosis. Don’t ask!) He is the perfect fit for the male lead. Handsome, funny, charming and sweet, Sam is the boyfriend you wouldn’t want to have gunned down in a bungled mugging. Moss proves he is leading man material, from Sam’s effortless humour to his confusion and anguish as a powerless ghost. The singing is powerful, emotional and strong. Moss carries us with him on Sam’s journey and we are in very safe hands.
Sarah Harding (Girls Aloud) plays bereaved girlfriend Molly – it’s a bit of stunt casting, perhaps, but Harding acquits herself more than adequately. I find her pop voice suits the rather poppy score. Her rendition of the heart-breaking With You is sweetly stirring. If anything, it’s the acting that’s a bit one-note, but her accent is strong and consistent and, let’s be honest, it’s a bit of a thankless role, all grief and vulnerable victim. Her voice blends well with Moss’s, and she does a good job.
If Moss is the beating heart of the show, Jacqui Dubois as psychic charlatan Oda Mae Brown is the life and soul of the party. Hilarious in each of her scenes, Dubois really lifts the piece, steering us away from mawkishness. The comic timing is spot on and the singing to die for.
A slick and smart ensemble supports, with a neat cameo appearance from James Earl Adair as the Hospital Ghost, and Garry Lee Netley as the aggressive, bad-ass Subway Ghost.
Of course, Unchained Melody features, along with the most famous potter’s wheel since the Interlude (ask your gran). It all adds up to an engaging evening’s entertainment, sweet, touching and at turns hilarious. It makes me glad this Ghost has been resurrected.