An Interview with Paul Kieve, Ghost The Musical’s Illusionist
After seeing Ghost The Musical on Broadway, the renowned illusionist David Copperfield tweeted, “It’s rare for me to experience wonder, but my friend Paul Kieve gave me that experience for an illusion he created.” Copperfield also thanked Kieve, telling him it was a long time since he’d had that feeling of awe.
Copperfield was not alone in his effusiveness. Teller, of Penn & Teller, wrote that “loads of the conjuring fooled me, indeed took my breath away.” The same is true of audiences.
Ghost The Musical is, of course, based on the phenomenally popular film written by Bruce Joel Rubin, who also wrote the book and some of the lyrics for the show. Most everyone is familiar with the plot: A young man named Sam is murdered, becomes a ghost, and must find a way to communicate to his girlfriend, Molly, that she is in danger. The musical is directed by Matthew Warchus, and features a score by Grammy Award-winners Dave Stewart and Glen Ballard.
The movie includes all sorts of eye-catching special effects. But in order for the illusions to most effectively astound and even move audiences, Kieve took a selective approach for the stage. The show’s most eye-popping moment is when Sam walks through a door – that’s the illusion that flabbergasted Copperfield – and Kieve didn’t want to diminish the effect by using variations of that trick earlier. “When you watch the movie, you don’t think twice about ghosts walking through things,” he says. “But when someone walks through a solid object onstage, it’s a big event. It’s kind of miraculous. So if Sam has already walked through every other object before he walks through the door, then walking through the door is not an event. So one of the first things I said to Matthew was, ‘We’ve got to decide where we’re going to play our aces.’”
They took out any illusions that seemed superfluous, but at the same time, Kieve offered suggestions for other places in the script where he thought he could create a magic moment. One occurs at the end, when Sam is taking revenge on the man responsible for his death. “Sam ends up beating him up and throwing things around the office,” says Kieve. “I thought it would be really delicious to make that kind of an invisible man scene. Obviously, Sam is always invisible to the characters onstage, but the audience sees him. I suggested to Matthew that it would be really great to have one moment where the audience gets the excitement and delight of not seeing Sam, but seeing his affect on objects, and seeing the bad guy get beaten up by his invisible hand.”
One of the most crucial and poignant scenes in the movie is the levitating penny, the moment when Molly believes that Sam is actually present. But after trying out that trick, Kieve replaced it with something that he thought would work more effectively onstage. “We couldn’t do the coin floating the same way as in the movie,’ he says, “because in the movie, you quickly switch points of view. One second you see Patrick Swayze balancing the coin on his finger, and the next time you see the coin hovering towards Demi Moore. For the show, we had to decide whether you see Sam or not; you can’t switch points of view. And without Sam there, it’s just a floating coin. Even though it looked great, I think people would be sitting there trying to figure out how we did it. At that point in the story, you don’t want the audience concerned about how the trick works. It’s probably the most important moment in the show, because it’s what the show is all about: believing. You want the pathos. So we replaced the coin with a letter, and without giving away what we do, it delivers an emotional punch first, and then gives you the magic.”
Kieve has won virtually every prestigious award bestowed by the magic community in his native England and in the United States. He was 10 years old when he became interested in magic, and began his professional career when he was 16. By the time he was in his early 20s, Kieve had been touring the globe with his magic act for four years. After playing the Theatre Royal Stratford East, he was invited by the company to work on its upcoming world premiere, The Invisible Man. The show opened in 1991, Kieve’s effects garnered considerable attention, and his theatrical career was launched. He has thus far worked on over 100 theatrical productions – shows (Pippin, Matilda the Musical), ballets, and operas – in the West End, on Broadway, and internationally, and was involved in some capacity on all the Harry Potter movies.
“I enjoy working in film, but I can’t compete with computer generated images,” he says. “You really get the impact of magic in the theater. When you see something happen before your eyes, it gives you a moment of astonishment. And magic is such a huge part of drama. I recently did Kenneth Branagh’s Macbeth, and as I was working on it, I realized the similarities and overlap of themes between Macbeth and Ghost: jealousy, greed, murder, and a ghost coming back to warn or haunt somebody. That’s why Ghost is such a terrific story: it connects to great narratives and great tragedies. Working on it was a wonderful opportunity to use magic in such an honorable way; the story elevates the magic and the magic elevates the story.”
© 2013, Ghost On Tour, LLC.
GHOST THE MUSICAL is coming to Dallas at the Music Hall at Fair Park January 28 – February 9! Get your tickets and more info at http://budurl.com/14Ghost.
Check out this video, giving you a sneak peek into the illusions in the show!