Review: Sister Act at The Palace Theatre , Manchester

Faith and Great Music Make Anything ‘Fabulous Baby’, I Believe.
The first rule of judging theatre, when a show is based on a film, – my advice would be – is to have an open mind. Do not always go expecting an emulation of the film version as very often it will have completely different characters, scenes and brand new music that will either improve your night or ruin it.
When I first saw the stage adaptation of Sister Act, last year, I hated various parts as it wasn’t consistent and took ages to get going but tonight, I loved it. The last time, there was no excuse for poor accents and pace issues that I feel occurred as it had already been touring for a good few months. This time, there wasn’t a single thing wrong and I thoroughly enjoyed it, in the company of friends from other reviewing outlets. It was pacey, flowed, the music was brilliant and the atmosphere of the live musicians (actors who play the instruments) and comedy lines made the experience far more enjoyable and I am glad I had the opportunity to return to the audience, again at the Palace Theatre.
Alexandra Burke’s accent and portrayal of the role were highly criticised last time and in the first few weeks of her time in the role but it is clear that she, and the rest of the cast, have relaxed, settled into the role and are loving every minute of what they do. Everyone on stage shows their passion and realism and that is infectious. The whole audience is taken in and engages, from laughing at the initial out-of-tune singing of the nuns and references to The Sound of Music; to clapping along to during the on-stage ‘gig’ for The Pope and just generally wanting to fight the urge to get up and dance in the aisles.
Ms Burke is brilliant in the role of Deloris Van Cartier (Sister Mary Clarance), portraying both innocence and strength as the ‘negro’ soulful singer that she is. Karen Mann’s Mother Superior is beautiful (and her solos are too particularly ‘Here Within These Walls’), as is Joe Vetch’s Eddie and his chemistry with Alexandra (and Alice Stokoes’ in her role as Sister Mary Robert, who sings beautifully, notably in ‘The Life I Never Led’) is a delight to watch. Comedy from all the nuns (Susannah Van Den Berg as ‘larger than life’ Sister Mary Patrick, Liz Kitchen as Sister Mary Lararus, Allison Harding as Sister Mary Theresa) and Monsignor O’Hara (Tim Maxwell-Clarke) provides a soft undertone to the deep story and emotion of the discipline of living in a convent. We learn a lot and the ladies (and gents) playing the nuns, I am sure, do it justice.
Aaron Lee Lambert’s villainous Curtis is likeable at the start and dispisable throughout and his velvety ‘Barry White’ tones are lovely. His gang (Samuel Morgan-Grahame as Joey, Ricky Rojas as Pablo and Sandy Grigelis as nephew TJ) are great too, and their performances in ‘When I Find My Baby’, ‘Lady In The Long Black Dress’ and the reprise of ‘Fabulous, Baby’ are wonderful (especially their pink sequins).
Basically, without reservation (now), I urge you to go an see this show! My favourite songs remain ‘I Could Be That Guy’, ‘Take Me To Heaven’ and ‘Sister Act’. With (limited) choreography and direction by Craig Revel-Horwood and music by Alen Menkin (lyrics by Glenn Slater) – and additional band members Greg Nicholas (Trumpet), Dan Humphries (Bass), Ollie Boorman (Percussion) and Simon Lambert (Keyboards), under the direction of Greg Arrowsmith – the music is what makes this show, as well as the visual/lighting effects and Matthew Wright’s overall set and costume designs which take you back to the 70s Disco era.
Tickets are available from until Saturday before it heads to Inverness before returning to the North West of England next month at Blackpool Winter Gardens where it appears Alexandra will be taking a break from the role.
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