Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Monday 27th February, 2017
This touring production originates from Leicester’s Curve theatre, a place with a growing reputation for the excellence of its musicals – and this one goes all out to uphold that reputation. The story will be familiar to fans of the Whoopi Goldberg film comedy, but the score does not use the same old songs. Alan Menken’s vibrant original score pastiches the music of the era (the action is transposed from the 1990s to the 1970s) and gives the show its own musical identity.
Leading the cast as sassy club-singer-turned-fugitive Dolores, is TV talent show alumnus Alexandra Burke. Her singing voice is heavenly but she also proves herself an accomplished comic performer, physically as well as vocally. Lighting up the stage whenever she appears (and she is rarely off) Burke is a revelation (but not the bad kind from the Bible!) and an utter joy to behold.
She is supported by a fine ensemble of actor-musicians who carry their instruments around like fashion accessories. Among the nuns’ chorus, Sarah Goggin’s postulant Sister Mary Robert has the most developed character arc, growing from shyness to full-on belt. There is something inherently comical about nuns, and this show gets a lot out of this without resorting to off-colour gags about cucumbers or soap in the bath. These nuns are funny, individualised along the lines of the seven dwarfs: there’s the old one, the happy one and so on.
Karen Mann’s Mother Superior is a powerful stage presence and her solo numbers are masterclasses in musical theatre. Aaron Lee Lambert is afro-sporting villain, Curtis, with a rich, chocolatey voice, contrasting with Joe Vetch’s good guy cop Eddie. Their songs range from old-school r&b to disco – oddly, perhaps for a show directed by Craig Revel Horwood, the numbers are not saturated with choreography. Horwood uses the 70s moves sparingly, so the Travolta-moves lift the songs when appropriate, without becoming parodies of themselves.
Matthew Wright’s set keeps the ecclesiastical interior throughout, dressing it with disco stairs or police cell bars as the plot requires, in an economical and effectively emblematic fashion, allowing the action to flow seamlessly from scene to scene. Behind the scenes, the band fills out the sound of the onstage performers. Led by MD Greg Arrowsmith, this tight combo does as much to raise the roof and our spirits as those we can see.
An unadulterated pleasure from alpha to omega, this is a joyous night at the theatre, energising and uplifting as only live theatre can be. Perhaps the best of the trend for adapting films for the musical stage, Sister Act has everything you could pray for in a show.