Craig Revel Horwood’s production of ‘Sister Act’ hit the stage of The Palace Theatre last night. It is, of course, based on the film of the same name starring Whoopi Goldberg.
It tells thestory of wannabe club singer, Deloris Van Cartier (Alexandra Burke), who is forced into a form of evangelical witness protection after she sees her club owner/lover commit murder. That is basically the entire plot, it’s a little on the the thin side, but it does allow for the all the characters to embark on their own personal journeys.
The start of the show was unfortunately delayed for 30 minutes due to a technical problem which meant that the audience were getting a little hot and fidgety by the time the curtain went up, add to this the fact that this show doesn’t really ‘get going’ until about two thirds of the way through act one it added up to something of a flat start. Things started to pick up though when the excellent Jon Robyns, as lovelorn cop Eddie, performed his solo number ‘I Could Be That Guy’ complete with amusing support from his choir of transients.
Mr. Robyns was, for me, the standout performer in this production. This number then leads into the glorious ‘Raise Your Voice’ performed by the ensemble of Nuns at the end of act one. Act two is a little clunky but I did enjoy ‘Lady In the Long Black Dress’ performed by the trio of hapless stooges sent to infiltrate the convent to find Deloris. In true musical theatre fashion good always wins out, so the guy gets the girl, the convent is saved and the Nuns get to sing for The Pope.
Sometimes on touring productions we get a ‘watered down’ version of the West End original, smaller casts, less flashy sets, cheaper looking costumes and less complex lighting but I am very happy to report that none of these apply to this show. The overall look and feel is excellent. What is becoming more and more common is to replace the need for an orchestra with actors who can play musical instruments and this is the case here. I’m generally not a fan of this, but in this case it didn’t distract from the action.
As I mentioned earlier I thought Jon Robyns was outstanding, he is vocally excellent and his acting was equal to it. He made the character of Eddie funny, sweet, awkward and endearing. All the Nuns can sing incredibly well and they bring across their individual characters well but they are most definitely at their strongest when singing as an ensemble.
Aaron Lee Lambert (Curtis) has a rich voice which suits the 70’s feel supremely well.
Now onto Miss Burke, we all know the girl can sing but can she act? She has a couple of very big pairs of shoes to fill, Whoopi Goldberg in the film and Patina Miller from both the West End and Broadway. I found her characterisation a little two dimensional, but this is not a huge issue in something as light and fluffy as this, and I also struggled to get every word she said. This is often one of the tell tale differences between trained musical theatre actors and pop stars. There were also diction problems when Miss Burke was singing in her lower register, she is quite breathy in her lower range and I missed quite a lot of the lyrics. She definitely found her groove as the show progressed but she needed to make her mark from her very first entrance.
Craig Revel Horwood’s choreography is highly energetic and punchy and his direction is generally very good, he clearly knows how to stage scenes well. Only on a couple of occasions did I notice characters walking around a table or chair for no other reason than to add movement to a scene. There were also a few missed comedic opportunities but over all they were brought across to the audience well. The script does not have the subtle, skillful comedy of it’s original source material but it still has many funny moments.
Ultimately the audience thoroughly enjoyed it, as the standing ovation showed. It was a high energy, disco balled, likable show.
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