Music: Alan Menken
Lyrics: Glenn Slater
Book: Cheri &Bill Steinkellner
Director: Craig Revel Horwood
Reviewer: John Roberts
Craig Revel Horwood has over the years brought us some of the best actor/musician productions in the UK, his Hot Mikado was sensational and his revival of Chess brought a clarity to the storytelling that the musical usually looses when staged. Now with Sister Act, he brings real soul to the show and takes the fabulous from Strictly and plants it firmly into the heavenly.
Based on the film of the same name, Alexandra Burke plays Deloris Van Cartier, a nightclub singer who goes on the run after witnessing her gangster boyfriend Curtis (Aaron Lee Lambert) shoot a police informant. Taking refuge in a local convent Van Cartier goes under the cloth and hides away as a nun until her court case comes to trial. Things however never go smoothly and Van Cartier tests the patience of the Mother Superior (Karen Mann) where she is tasked with improving the convent choir – atask that really needs a miracle.
What makes Sister Act stand out from many screen to stage musical adaptations, is the writing, thankfully due to copyright issues with Motown Records, the show was unable to use the songs featured in the original movie, and so the task of bringing the musical to life fell upon Academy Award winning musical theatre writer Alan Menken and Glenn Slater whose catalogue of work between them is nothing short of phenomenal. The music takes the audience on a real journey and it’s almost impossible to not be swept along and find yourself tapping along to the music. Which brings us to the next part of this revival’s strong points – the musical arrangements. Tony Award winner Sarah Travis who has worked with Revel Horwood many times manages the almost impossible task or arranging the music to fit within the logistics of such a show so that the music still feels rich and full and she pulls it off with aplomb. Matthew Wright’s convent set design serves the show well, especially when lit by Richard G Jones’ clever and atmospheric lighting design.
There are however some compromises with the production that have had to be made to accommodate the actor/musician style, and with Sister Act, that sacrifice tends to fall upon the shoulders of the choreography. Yes, there are some great disco moments where the cast are allowed to shine, but overall due to them playing instruments for a vast majority of the time, the company are hampered with some rather basic movement.
Burke may take her time getting warmed up in the role of Van Cartier but once she is in full stride it’s hard not to take to her sassy and sultry ways especially when her voice is soaring so high throughout many of the production numbers. Lee Lambert brings a 70s soul induced vibe to his portrayal of gangster boss Curtis. Mann shines as the Mother Superior and Rosemary Ashe as the ageing Sister Mary Lazarus brings plenty of laughs to the table – a shame that the brilliant song How I Got The Calling has somehow been cut from the show which would have seen Ashe really bring the house down. Jon Robyns as Eddie the lovable cop is a delight to watch, as is Sarah Goggin’s journey from shy violet to strong wallflower as Sister Mary Robert.
Revel Horwood has ensured that this production is full of pace and packs plenty of laughs into this new revival and while it may not be without its faults the show is a riot, so much so that this much fun surely has to be a sin!
Runs until 15 October, 2016 | Image: Tristram Kenton