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Review: Ghost the Musical at Liverpool Empire ****

It’s nearly three decades since Ghost swept all before it at the box office and powered the Righteous Brothers to the top of the charts.

But it seems audiences still hunger for a touch of writer Joel Bruce Rubin’s good-verses-evil romantic fantasy thriller – returning to the Empire this week in a new, reworked stage version which fleshes out the relationship at the heart of the tragic tale.

It’s a welcome back-to-emotional-basics approach. Previous productions of the musical (which premiered back in 2011) involved all sorts of complicated video installations and technical bells and whistles which meant the story of love, loss and longing was somewhat swamped beneath the visuals.

Here, director Bob Tomson and the team rely on sliding doors and sleight of hand rather than high-tech staging – and this relatively lo-fi approach actually proves more effective.

Despite the expansion of the backstory, Rubin’s script sticks fairly faithfully to the original films plot.

Banker Sam (Niall Sheehy) and potter Molly (Rebekah Lowings) are two lovebirds nesting together in a lofty Brooklyn apartment when tragedy strikes one night, and Sam is shot in an apparent street robbery.

A devastated Molly is comforted by Sam’s best friend and workmate Carl (Sergio Pasquariello), but nothing is what it seems, and it’s only when a frustrated Sam – hovering between this world and the next - finds the ear of faux psychic Oda Mae Brown that he can voice his anger at his killing and his fears for Molly’s safety.

The scene where Oda Mae and Sam first visit a sceptical Molly in their shared apartment is particularly good.

Jacqui Dubois (above) has crack comic timing and a big stage presence – and powerful voice – as the flamboyant Oda Mae, the unenthusiastic medium roped in to help exact Sam’s revenge.

In fact, all the leads showcase impressively strong vocals in a series of melodic but ultimately unmemorable original songs penned by Dave Stewart and Glen Ballard.

Meanwhile Unchained Melody (the one tune you WILL be humming on the way home) makes no fewer than three appearances over the course of the evening; in a solo by a jokey – and very much alive - Sam, on the radio, and finally in an emotion-charged duet between Molly and Sam.

The first half comes to a bombastic climax of power vocals and screaming guitars, while the second opens with a crack of thunder and some uncomfortably awkward ensemble choreography involving umbrellas.

But away from distracting dancing and bombastic crescendos, there is a striking story about love torn asunder which has enough genuine emotional heft (thanks in particular to Lowings’ fine performance as the devastated Molly) to leave members of the audience audibly sniffing away the tears.

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