Sister Act – Royal and Derngate, Northampton

Music: Alan Menken

Lyrics: Glenn Slater

Book: Cheri & Bill Steinkellner

Director: Craig Revel Horwood

Reviewer: Natasha Hegarty

The plot of Sister Act: The Musical, is well known to those who have seen the 1992 film starring Whoopi Goldberg and Maggie Smith. Club singer, Deloris van Cartier, witnesses a murder committed by her mobster boyfriend and is given witness protection by living in a convent under the guise of Sister Mary Clarence. While there, she repeatedly clashes with the Mother Superior before eventually taking over the convent choir and teaching them how to sing – a chore that does require the intervention of a heavenly miracle.

Director, Craig Revel Horwood has made some inspired – and quite brave – changes to the musical to avoid it being a carbon copy of the film. Some things work, while others do fall short. Set in the ‘70s, the music is funk and soul and is worth a visit simply for that alone. Fans of the original film might be saddened to discover some of the famous songs fail to make it onto the stage, but they’re not missed for a second: the score is utterly fabulous and absolutely saves the show as the plot really is paper thin. Trumpets, saxophones, violins and more are played by the talented nuns and ensemble, providing the music and that’s a Godsend – literally not figuratively. Tony Award and Oscar winner, Alan Menken, has done a brilliant job here.

X Factor alumna, Alexandra Burke, fresh from stepping into the shoes of Whitney Houston in a run of The Bodyguard, takes the lead role in Sister Act and is a natural on the stage with a voice made for musical theatre. There’s absolutely no doubt she has a set of pipes on her and the music suits her tone and vocal range. Her Deloris is sassy and funny. Burke is a strong lead, though there is much more scope for her to command the stage with smaller nuances rather than brash physicality.

Her banter back and forth with Karen Munn as Mother Superior is hilarious and feels natural. Mann’s performance of Here Within These Walls is a real treat. She is an example of a performer who doesn’t require bells and whistles to bring out the character’s core. Her characterisation differs slightly at times from the film and it really works. Here’s where Cheri Steinkellner and Bill Steinkellner have made one of their many additional elements to a character that’s a success.
The core group of nuns – Sisters Mary Patrick, Mary Lazarus and Mary Robert all connect well together are a delight to watch, especially Susannah Van Den Berg as Mary Robert whose voice and tone is beautiful. Her gut-wrenching and strong performance of The Life I Never Lead highlights her character’s development arc and is a standout song in the repertoire. Another example of a great character development is Joe Vetch as ‘Sweaty’ Eddie, the cop with a crush on Deloris and who saves her.

However, the mobsters are less menacing and more caricatures and only seem to be there for the gags and it’s at times far too over the top. Movements and facial expressions become slapstick and silly rather than genuinely funny as the musical goes on. Taking this down a notch and adding a slightly threatening edge to the gang would definitely take the show to another level.

Sister Act: The Musical might fall short in a few areas, but the music is brilliant and the performances are strong. It has the audience dancing in their seats and the fabulous encore has everyone on their feet. Well worth a watch.

Runs until 1 April 2017 | Image: Tristram Kenton

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One Comment

  1. Went to see Sister Act Saturday matinee in Northampton. Although a lot of people seemed to like it I found the lib was not easy to hear as it was so loud. The sound was distorted and the only redeeming grace were the musicians. Not impressed – waste of £45.

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