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.
Creature of habit: Alexandra Burke
Leave a comment | tags: Aaron Lee Lambert, Alan Menken, Alexandra Burke, Craig Revel Horwood, Curve Leicester, Grand Theatre Wolverhampton, Joe Vetch, Karen Mann, Matthew Wright, review, Sarah Goggin, Sister Act, Whoopi Goldberg | posted in Theatre Review
Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Thursday 16th February, 2012
I am wary of musicals based on films. The bland show born of tepid rom-com Legally Blonde is a prime example; and so it was with caution that I approached the “musicalisation” of Whoopi Goldberg’s 1992 hit.
I need not have worried.
The show is a complete joy from start to finish.
The adaptation is set two decades earlier than the film and this turns out to be a very wise decision indeed, allowing Alan Menken’s score to indulge in some very funny pastiches of 1970s soul and R&B music. This is when R&B meant ‘rhythm and blues’ and not the ‘rubbish and bollocks’ of our day and age.
Protagonist Dolores (an energetic Cynthia Ariva) sings lead in an all-girl trio. Their opening number evokes The Three Degrees and the Philadelphia sound. She witnesses her club-owner boyfriend murder a man and ends up in an ad hoc witness protection set-up at the local nunnery. Here she is put in charge of the choir and before long has them raising their voices and increasing the size of the congregation. She meets with opposition from the Mother Superior (Denise Black). The show dances around the schism in Christianity, the different approaches to worship from the traditional to the happy-clappy, and touches on notions of what is being worshipped at all. Is it the divine or the human that deserves such celebration and devotion?
This is only an undercurrent, there if you want to see it. The show is knockabout fun – nuns do very well in musicals – and there is a relentless, feel-good vibe coming off the stage that got me to my feet and shaking it like I was Mary Magdalene. It is the score that shines brightest. The almighty Alan Menken (Little Shop of Horrors, Beauty & The Beast, Aladdin…) fills the show with delight after delight. The film used songs from popular culture; in the show, all the music is original and it works much better. Glenn Slater’s lyrics are witty and meaningful. This is a rich, traditional musical with a postmodern slant. The pastiches feel authentic and give the piece a distinctive sound that sets it apart from the movie soundtrack.
Bad guy (Cavin Cornwall) croons his intention to kill Dolores, while his henchmen perform moves the O’Jays would have been proud of. Good guy, Sweaty Eddie, tears off his police uniform to reveal a white jump suit for his Barry White/Marvin Gaye number – then tears off his jumpsuit to reveal his police uniform again, as he returns to reality. Michael Starke (Sinbad off of Brookside) has fun as the Monsignor and Denise Black (in the Maggie Smith role) provides most of the depth. In the lead, Cynthia Ariva is astounding. There is a hint of Whoopi Goldberg to her characterisation, an acknowledgment of the character’s provenance, but on the whole Ariva makes the part her own and the evening belongs to her.
The sets and costumes and indeed the size of the company all show that this is a high quality touring production. It is heartening to see that the provinces are not being short-changed or stinted with cut corners or dilutions.
Leave a comment | tags: Alan Menken, Cynthia Ariva, Grand Theatre Wolverhampton, musical, review, Sister Act, Whoopi Goldberg | posted in Theatre Review