Music: Alan Menken
Lyrics: Glenn Slater
Book: Cheri & Bill Steinkellner
Director: Craig Revel Horwood
Reviewer: Clare White
There is much to rejoice about in Sister Act. The musical stage adaptation of the popular 90s film starring Whoopi Goldberg is full of energy and fun – featuring an original score by Oscar-winning composer Alan Menken, starring vocal powerhouse Alexandra Burke and including trombone-playing nuns. There’s little not to like.
Burke plays Deloris Van Cartier, a feisty lounge singer who is placed in witness protection for her own safety after witnessing a gangland killing by her mobster-boyfriend. Forced to hide out in a convent under the guise of Sister Mary Clarence, Deloris is horrified by the strict rules she must now abide by. She regularly clashes with Mother Superior over her rebellious attitude, until tasked with leading the abbey’s tone-deaf choir, where she discovers the power of sisterhood, both in the spiritual and friendship-sense.
Directed and choreographed by Strictly Come Dancing judge Craig Revel Horwood, in a departure from the film version, the action takes place in the 1970s, which gives the production its own musical identity, capitalized on by composer Menken, fusing gospel and soul with some good old 70s disco funk.
Revel Horwood knows how to fill a stage with interest and movement, cleverly casting actors who are also musicians and making them part of the orchestral ensemble live on stage. Gangsters strum guitars, a prostitute plays the violin and a nun squeezes away on an accordion. It’s an unusual move which at first feels a bit unnatural and clunky but is actually a really clever way of elevating characters and making music the core of this production.
Matthew Wright’s set is a spatial structure with dramatic archways, lending itself to appearing as a nightclub or a church, dressed up or down with disco lights and simple props as required.
Having previously filled the shoes of Whitney Houston in the stage version of The Bodyguard to critical acclaim, Burke takes on the role made famous by Whoopi Goldberg with equal success – she’s clearly very good at ‘big’ characters. A class act as wise-cracking diva Deloris, Burke’s portrayal is more playful, sassy and ambitious. At times her dialogue is a little rushed, but she has excellent comic timing, energy and her vocals are, excuse the pun, heaven-sent – emotive, strong and soulful. Her performances of Raise Your Voice and Sister Act are particularly goosebump-inducing.
Deloris’s ex Curtis (Aaron Lee Lambert) and his inept gang, complete with plaid flares and suede jackets, are suitably roguish, but appear more comedic caricature-criminals than menacing mobsters, which makes their portrayal of Class A drug use during one number feel particularly uncomfortable and unnecessary.
Nice guy cop ‘sweaty’ Eddie, played by Joe Vetch is kept light for the laughs, and his disco-inspired solo I Could Be That Guy is a highlight.
The austere role of Mother Superior is brilliantly portrayed by Karen Mann. She has many of the best lines, gives a rousing rendition of Here Within These Walls and has hilariously fierce clashes with Deloris. There is also great characterisation within the core group of nuns – Sisters Mary Patrick, Mary Lazarus and Mary Robert, (Susannah Van Den Berg, Liz Kitchen and Sarah Goggin respectively) as the loud one, the rebel and the shy one who Deloris helps to find her voice.
Sister Act is a vibrant and uplifting production, boasting excellent vocal performances and bursting with good spirited fun. Hallelujah!
Runs until 4 March 2017 | Image: Tristram Kenton