Watch Sister Act! It is that good. In many ways it is a shame the run is so short because this production (by the Carlton Operatic Society) moves from strength to strength. The musical is based mostly on the film of the same name; a Vegas singer who hides in a convent to escape her criminal ex-lover. But, straight up, this musical is NOT the film. There is no ‘I Will Follow Him’ and both score and plot are fleshed out. However this should not deter fans of the original film because the musical still gives an overwhelming sense of happiness. Moreover even if you have not seen the film, there is still so much to enjoy from this show. The production is sublime, meaning there is no excuse to miss it, not even for those exams you are revising for.
What is the core of a musical? The answer is the songs and set-pieces you go away and remember. Wicked has ‘Defying Gravity’, and The Lion King has ‘Circle of Life’. For ‘Sister Act’ these big set pieces are the nun choir performances, and this production does not disappoint. From ‘Raise Your Voice’, to ‘Take Me to Heaven’ Alan Menken, the original composer for the musical, creates just enough catch for the songs to stick, but it does not stop there. The choreography from Lisa Lee alone is brilliant, and for a large song list, does not feel repetitive. There is a certain guilty humour in watching nuns move from classic disco to American gospel; sway to modern raving. It is presented to be funny whilst professional, and achieves both so well. These set pieces have such diversity that each is spectacular and unique in its staging and performance. The set adapts with seamless versatility between numbers so the audience can appreciate the impressive backdrops without feeling overwhelmed, combined with a wardrobe which, again, has variety enough to excite and surprise any audience member. Combined with a superb band, such moments bring these moments to life, and drive the play forwards to towering heights.
If you going in knowing the film, then you already know that certain characters have huge shoes to fill with memorable performances from Whoopi Goldberg and Maggie Smith. But credit where credit is due, the casting in this production is similarly pinpoint perfect. Deloris Van Cartier (Monique Henry) fills the stage as soon as she arrives and has to with such a massive role. Henrycarries just the right balance between the original sass-mouthing singer to a rather believable development into one of the sisters. And she can sing well. Incredibly well, in fact, with the amount she has to and the power she gets behind soloing between soul ballads and gospel choruses. Similarly Sarah Walker-Smith brings the strict role of Mother Superior to life, presenting a character with a realistic caring nature whilst a stubborn need to hold onto tradition. She could easily be alienating, but instead uses a dry humour to present a role which you will enjoy as much as that of Deloris’. What both achieve are qualities which you loved from the original film actors whilst being different enough that the roles feel refreshingly unique. Note must also be made to Sister Mary Lazarus (Jackie Dunn) who is hilarious (and resonances beautifully in comparison to her film counterpart) and also Sister Mary Robert (Hannah Rogers-Gee). Undoubtedly the script offers a greater opportunity for her character to grow, but her voice alone could be on the West End. She belts the high register sensationally, and her solo in ‘The Life I Never Led’ was the stand-out solo performance in massively quality filled evening.
Undeniably there are many things that could go wrong with this production and, in some instances, did. But you don’t care. You honestly don’t. Although this review focused heavily on the music, I could easily rave over other cast members, production value etc. but there simply are not the superlatives. Even this review feels insubstantial in conveying how good this show is for an amateur production. It looks, feels and sounds professional, and the musical itself is massively enjoyable and hilarious. Simply, it is sensational.
Sister Act runs at the Theatre Royal until Saturday 31st May. For tickets and more information visit their website.
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