THE mysterious art of the illusionist lies at the heart of Ghost, which floats onto the Playhouse stage today, for a three-week haunting.
But then, the smash-hit Broadway musical boasts more state-of-the-art technical ‘magic’ backstage than anything that has gone before.
It boasts a production team second to none: Matthew Warchus, whose West End production of Roald Dahl’s Matilda won seven Oliviers, directs; the songs are by one-time Eurthymic Dave Stewart; choreographer Ashley Warren has worked with everyone from Kylie to Mariah Carey; and musical supervisor Christopher Nightingale has arranged everything from the Pet Shop Boys’ Closer To Heaven musical to Alan Parker’s movie version of Evita.
However, it’s Paul Kieve, who weaves his spellbinding illusions around all other aspects of the show, that makes this collaboration special.
It’s his expertise that not only sends a shiver down the spine, but leaves audiences open-mouthed in awe - never more so than when ill-fated hero Sam Wheat glides through a solid door.
“Although much of what is in Ghost is built on what went before, there are some completely new illusions in the show,” beams Kieve, “and I am very proud to say that Sam walking through the door has fooled the very best brains in the business, including people like David Copperfield and Teller, from Penn and Teller.”
A ‘timeless fantasy about the power of love,’ Ghost tells the story of Sam Wheat. Trapped as a ghost between this world and the next, he must find a way to communicate with his girlfriend Molly. It’s his only hope of saving her from his murderer - enter phoney psychic Oda Mae Brown. A mix of romance and comedy, with dazzling staging, the musical is based on the 1990 Oscar-winning movie, starring Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore and Whoopi Goldberg
For its transition to the theatre, Kieve has created a total of ten illusional sequences to bring Sam - and various other characters - back from the other side. Many have been created specially for the tour and didn’t feature in the West End or Broadway productions.
The magician, who was also responsible for many of the illusions in the Harry Potter films, explains, “Magic has been around since the year dot, but of course there have been leaps in technology over the years; for example the optical effects that came in during the Victorian era fascinate me and have had a big influence on Ghost.
“I’ve spent the last 20 years doing illusions for shows, illusions that are part of a story, and there are very few stories that magic fits into so well as this.
“One reason it works is that the story itself asks the audience to suspend their disbelief. Because they can see Sam, they are willing Molly to believe that his ghost is there. It’s very emotional.
“When the magic then comes in at these emotionally-heightened points of the show (and if you can deliver an illusion just at the point where the audience is most emotionally caught up in the story) you get a kind of double whammy - they applaud and cry at the same time.”
That’s certainly the case when Sam dies, but the musical boasts many other spectacular effects, including spirits detaching from their bodies, and another in which a pair of spirits battle it out on a haunted subway train - one of the show’s highlights. “The fact that the bodies split in two when somebody dies was a particular challenge,” admits Kieve.
In the best traditions of the Magic Circle, however, he’s giving nothing away, turning his attention, instead, to the team who make it all possible.
“The team that has done Ghost work together quite a lot. I’ve worked with the director on 12 or 13 different shows and every time, we work more closely together.
“As a child he was fascinated with illusions, so when he came to me with Ghost he said, ‘I want it to be a love story with a filmic, pop-video quality and a magic show’.”
And so the collaborative process began.
“One of the great things for me is that I’m taking magic, which tends to be very secretive, people working alone, into a collaborative environment,” adds Kieve.
“The subway train was also a big collaborative effort between myself, Jon Driscoll on video design, and movement coach Liam Steel. The result is something that I don’t believe has ever been seen on stage before.”
But it’s the sight of Sam walking through that door that leaves audiences scratching their heads, and Kieve is quite content to have it that way, although he does admit that the first time he watched it himself, it was a nerve-wracking experience.
“The very first time I had a feeling of terror because you are never quite sure whether such a fairly audacious illusion will actually work. By that time, however, it’s integral to the show, so you think, ‘If this doesn’t work we’ve built all this set around it...’”
Kieve need not have worried, it works perfectly. The challenge is to see if you can figure out how it’s done.
Ghost The Musical, The Playhouse, Greenside Place, tonight-1 June, 7.30pm (matinees 2.30pm), £10-£45, 0844-871 3014
Bringing Ghost to life
There are 58 wigs used during Ghost the Musical. These are washed, set and maintained by the three members of the wigs department.
There are a total of 65 quick changes in the show. The quickest change in the show is six seconds.
There are a total of 217 costumes and 112 pairs of shoes.
The touring company of Ghost consists of 22 cast, seven musicians and 21 production staff.
All of the scenery, props, costume, wigs, lighting, sound, video and automation used in the production travel in ten articulated lorries.
Setting up the show at the Playhouse took approximately 50 hours and the get-out, will take approximately ten hours.
Ghost the Musical is the most technically complex production ever to tour the United Kingdom.
In a year, the sound department will use approximately 9000 batteries. All batteries are recycled.
The set includes seven automated LED video walls – 172,176 LED pixels in total.
There are 810 lighting cues and 746 sound cues in the show.
17 computers control all of the set, lighting and sound.