Craig Revel Horwood’s fresh take on the “fabulous” musical adaptation of the popular 1990s film Sister Act, returns to the Palace Theatre Manchester for one week only – and judging by the audience’s reaction tonight it is much appreciated encore.
Set in 1970s Philadelphia, aspiring superstar Delores Van Cartier (Alexandra Burke) is forced to hide out in a convent when she is witness to a murder at the hand of her something-gangster boyfriend Curtis (Aaron Lee Lambert). Here she tries desperately to be “inconspicuous” as she battles against the stubborn Mother Superior (Karen Mann) who suggests that with her musical background. she could be of some use within the church’s choir of tone-deaf nuns. It isn’t long before Delores helps this choir of quirky and hilarious nuns find their voice together as Delores herself embarks on a journey of self-discovery.
Alexandra Burke is simply superb in the role of Delores bringing a wit, charm and sexiness to the role, not to mention her soulful and powerful vocals, which truly do justice to the soaring ballads and funky disco numbers alike. She certainly brings the “drama, talent and sex combined” to the role and manages to capture both the sassy, powerful side of Delores as well as her more vulnerable side.
Whilst Burke could quite easily have stolen the show, this is very much an ensemble piece, enhanced notably by the onstage musicians who often switch flawlessly between singing / acting in a scene to blasting out on the trombone, saxophone or accordion! The ensemble of nuns are impressive with excellent comic timing and perfect characterisations, which in many ways will keep fans of the film very happy. The male ensemble were perhaps not quite as polished, with Curtis and his 3 henchmen creeping into the camp and slightly over theatrical at times, even in this, what is not meant to be a subtle production. It is however Mann’s Mother Superior who is the real strength to the production, expertly played, finding just the right balance of strength, hope and frustration throughout. Vocally she was superb too and for me brought the song “I Haven’t Got a Prayer” to life for the first time.
It is definitely the case that the music in the show is the highlight and the more I hear Menkin and Slater’s homage to 70s disco the more I come round to the opinion that I think this is a better musical without using the songs of the film. Placing the context of the narrative and the music in the 70s adds a different dimension to the musical and in many ways adds to the heart of the story. That said the pace of the show only truly hits its stride in act two and the first half did, at times, seem to drag a little. Part of this may be due to the use of on stage musicians. Whilst this was an interesting touch, I couldn’t help but want the actors to throw down their instruments and break out into more impressive choreography. With Revel Horwood’s background I think I was expecting a little more dynamism within the big production numbers, which seemed to be restricted due to the use of instruments and available space on stage in front of the large convent set. There were notable exceptions – Eddie’s number “I Could Be That Guy” was possibly the more impressive of the night, but even the finale for me felt a little underwhelming despite the sizzling vocal energy and display of lights.
Overall this was a highly enjoyable production, which has breathed a little more life into a musical that could very easily have become tired. There is no doubt that the strong ensemble, excellent music and powerhouse performance of Burke are the key elements to the success of this production and will, for now, keep it fabulous.
Sister Act is at The Palace Theatre until Saturday 29th July 2017.
Reviewed: Andrew Ashley
Reviewed: 24th July 2017
North West End Rating: ★★★★