Music: Alan Menken
Lyrics: Glenn Slater
Book: Cheri Steinkellner and Bill Steinkellner
Director: Craig Revel Horwood
Reviewer: Chris Oldham
Less than a year after starring as superstar Rachel Marron in The Bodyguard, Alexandra Burke is back at the Bristol Hippodrome playing a very different kind of diva in Craig Revel Horwood’s new production of Sister Act.
Burke is Deloris Van Cartier, an aspiring lounge singer forced to hide out in a convent when she witnesses her boyfriend murder one of his henchmen. Forced to wear a habit, and eat nothing but mutton, Deloris clashes with Mother Superior and begins to lead her fellow sisters astray, until she finds her calling in teaching them to sing.
In a move presumably designed to distance itself from the 1992 film of the same name, Sister Act the musical is set in 1977. And while the film was an homage to the girl groups and their music of the 1960s, the musical is focused firmly on disco, funk, and soul. Most of the time anyway.
Numbers like Take Me to Heaven, and Fabulous set the tone nicely but prove to be an energetic introduction to an otherwise rather meandering first act. It’s nobody’s fault. Stand out, breakaway pop hits aren’t an essential part of musical theatre, especially when the story is compelling enough. Sadly the story of Sister Act is thin at best, leaving the lead male characters Eddie (Jon Robyns), and Curtis (Aaron Lee Lambert) nothing much to sing about – though the fact that both actors are blessed with sublime voices does makeit much easier to listen to them killing time.
Thank the Lord, then, when Deloris isassigned to the choir. While there are a lot of laughs to be had at the awful noise the untrained nuns have made up to this point, the real pleasure comes when they find their harmony, and the resulting number Raise Your Voice – arriving just before the interval – signals the change in tide that carries right the way through to the end.
In such a mass of noise and colour, it’s often the quieter moments that carry the most resonance – Mother Superior (Karen Mann) first defending, and then beginning to lose her faith; and Deloris coming to realise just how much her new friends mean to her. There comes a moment midway through act two when Burke takes to the centre of an empty stage to sing the title number that feels worth the price of entry alone.
While his choreography rarely falters, Revel Horwood’s direction is a mixed bag. Brimming with his trademark glitz, glamour, and humour, and with one eye firmly on a glitter ball at all times, it suffers from the jarring decision to have most of the cast play an instrument or three on stage at one point or another. Elsewhere, however – a slow-motion action sequence in which the nuns defend their convent from Curtis and his men while accompanied by nothing more than a solo violinist, for example – he hits the jackpot.
Sister Act probably won’t be remembered as one of the greats. It is, however, an awful lot of fun, with Burke once again bringing something really quite special to the stage with her breathy vocals, magnificent range, and irresistible raspy delivery. Backed by a superb supporting cast of dancing nuns, randy gangsters, drag queens, and altars boys, it would appear she has indeed found her calling.
Runs until 24September 2016 | Image: Contributed