Music: Alan Menken
Lyrics: Glenn Slater
Book: Cheri & Bill Steinkellner
Director: Craig Revel Horwood
Reviewer: Kris Hallett
Sister Act is a staple of Sunday afternoon movie viewing, a film that when it is on requires you to put your feet up with a cuppa and watch. Along with Bond and Hocus Pocus (why has this still not been converted into a show by the way), it’s a film that gives you maximum enjoyment; confirming the stardom of Whoopi Goldberg and featuring some of the catchiest tunes in recent movie musicals. So best to clear something up right from the start, due to licensing issues with Motown Records there is no I Will Follow Him, not a smattering of Oh Happy Days, or anything of My Guy. However serviceable the new score is from Alan Menken and Glenn Slater it doesn’t have the crowd pleasing pull of the original film’s score, at least on a first listen. What this restriction has allowed them to do however is to transpose the narrative back to the 1970’s, giving the songs a heavy dose of soul and funk and the club scenes plenty of flares and hair.
Moving from X Factor winner to musical theatre heavyweight is no easy task and one Alexander Burke only partly succeeds in taking over the habit from Whoopi Goldberg. She definitely has the vocal chops, her voice a mix of silk and heft in the role of Deloris Van Cartier, a lounge singer who witnesses a murder and hides out in a convent with a sisterhood of Nuns. Yet her acting somewhat lacks precision; there are empty gestures and mannerisms that suggest brassy but never connect to any deeper sense of truth. As Deloris is tasked with improving the convent choir, she relaxes into the role more, perhaps suited better to the humility that the character learns, rather than the strutting peacock of the early scenes.
Some of the other nuns do fare better, Karen Mann turning the role of the Mother Superior from cold, eyebrow-arched disciplinarian to twinkling guardian via a good old fashioned drinking song (Here Within These Walls) while Sarah Goggin charts well the rise of Sister Mary Roberts from meek wallflower to brass voiced belter.
Craig Revel Horwood’s production moves along smartly if perhaps a little overly ‘fab-u-lous’ at times. He skips any sense of grit for jazz hands and high jinks, most egregiously playing the gangsters purely for laughs; the menace that Harvey Keitel brought to the film is completely bypassed in favour of slapstick; surely villains should always give at least a slight hint that they might win, otherwise there is no sense of cathartic release when they finally get their comeuppance.
It does score big in Sarah Travis’ astonishing musical arrangements, which fit the actor-musician production like a glove. So we see sax playing policeman, accordion wielding nuns and guitar strumming Detectives. Sometimes in productions where actors also have to play, the sound can come across as thin and reedy but it is never the case here, the music is always full bodied and helps contribute to the one future standard that the show produces, Take Me To Heaven, the kind of song that would have fit in to the infinitely superior movie version.
Runs until 12 August 2017 | Image: Tristram Kenton