Palace Theatre, Manchester
Until Saturday 29th July, 2017
One of the most vibrant and uplifting musicals in recent memory, Sister Act returns to Manchester in Curve Leicester’s radically different, actor-musician production, directed and choreographed by Craig Revel Horwood and once again starring Alexandra Burke in the famous Whoopi Goldberg role of Deloris Van Cartier.
Adapted from one of the most financially successful comedy films of the 1990s, Sister Act follows the story of promising night club singer Deloris, who, after witnessing a murder at the hands of her gangster boyfriend Curtis Shank, is forced to go into witness protection and hide out in the one place she won’t be found – a Convent. Under the disapproving gaze of Mother Superior, Deloris struggles to adapt to the nun’s strict and restrictive way of life, but soon finds her calling as she helps her tone-deaf sisters find their voices, forging them into a top notch gospel choir and drastically improving the dwindling financial situation of the church.
Revel Horwood’s production is slick, utterly unsubtle and a real feast for the eyes (hats of to the superb set and costume designer, Matthew Wright, and lighting designer, Richard G. Jones), though for all its strengths and visual highlights, it’s not without its issues.
As employed in his previous productions of Chess, Sunset Boulevard and Fiddler on the Roof, the actor-musician approach certainly gives the show a unique twist, but doesn’t always work in its favour. Compared with previous productions the vocals are sacrificed a little in order to find performers who can play instruments to a professional standard, and with no supporting ensemble or chorus, principal actors are bizarrely forced to double and triple up in an array of different roles.
As Deloris, Burke’s second foray into musical theatre proves equally as successful as her first, offering considerably greater scope to test out her acting chops and impressive comic timing, though the vocal demands are perhaps not quite as tough a challenge as The Bodyguard. Nevertheless her vocal display is still flawless and her characterisation bursts with energy, enthusiasm and sass, though at times her acting feels lacking in control and general refinement.
Karen Mann offers strong support as Mother Superior, with other notable standouts coming from Susannah van den Berg as the hilarious Sister Mary Patrick, Tim Maxwell-Clarke as Monsignor O’Hara, Aaron Lee Lambert as Curtis, Sarah Goggin as Sister Mary Robert and and Joe Vetch and ‘sweaty’ Eddie Souther.
Alan Menken’s distinctive and infectious original score is excellent, fusing aspects of soul, gospel and disco in equal measure, though fans of the film may miss the familiarity of the original movie soundtrack.
Sister Act has its flaws, but it remains a fabulous feel-good musical, guaranteed to have the audience on their feet and raising their voices in the pews!
Running Time: 2 hours and 50-minutes (approx.) (including one 20-minute interval)
Final Performance at the Palace Theatre, Manchester: Saturday 29th July, 2017
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