Following its acclaimed stint at the Leicester Curve, Sister Act offer salvation to those experiencing the post summer holiday blues as it hits Birmingham this week, and if the packed-out opening night audience at the New Alexandra Theatre were anything to go by then this nationally touring production stand to be an even bigger success that it’s inaugural run.
Based on the 1992 film of the same name and directed by Strictly Come Dancing’s Craig Revel Horwood, the outlandish show centres around African-American lounge singer Deloris Van Cartier who flees to witness protection in a convent after witnessing her lover shoot an accomplice dead. Using her hunger for fame to her advantage she transforms the dull choristers from nuns to disco divas, and in doing so entices congregation back into the dwindling church – but at a cost.
2008 X Factor winner Alexandra Burke took on the role of Deloris, made famous in the film by Whoopi Goldberg. With more than a nod to the originator, she slipped wonderfully between fabulous sass and eccentricity to pull a very entertaining performance out of the bag. With the rich tone that made her famous she belted gospel numbers off the back wall, but in quieter moments – particularly in her lower register – she sadly struggled to be heard above the band. Any shortfalls were forgiven, however, on account of her excellent delivery and comic timing.
Experiencing no such trouble was loveable cop “Sweaty Eddie”, played by Jon Robyns. The eventual romantic interest, his impressive vocals, particularly in stand-out number I Could Be That Guy were only marred by the truly terrible moustache that adorned the lip from which they came. His love-struck, bumbling character worked brilliantly in contrast to Burke’s confident Van Cartier, and the pair had serious (and seriously adorable) chemistry from the outset.
Ably supported by the company of crooks and clergy – who also make up over half of the band – the company should be commended on their developed and engaging performances. Their collective vocals – nuns in particular - were divine in both the upbeat and choral music. Curtis, played by Aaron Lee Lambert, and the shady stooges could have stood to be a little more villainous, but it is musical theatre after all.
A special mention however must go to Karen Mann as Mother superior, and Sandy Grigelis as TJ: the former stoic and precise, and the latter a wildly funny oddball. Both actors embraced opposite ends of the behavioural spectrum and the show was better for it.
The staging and set changes were swiftly executed perfectly by the company, but - although brilliantly performed by the company - the choreography felt (surprisingly, for a Craig Revel Horwood production) a bit like an after-thought. A couple of brief disco interludes aside, even the ever-faithful glitter ball couldn’t detract from the feeling that there could have been more: a compromise of having musicians having to move on stage also, perhaps.
Nevertheless a heavenly show packed to the rafters with “feel good” factor, and one that deserves to sell-out auditoriums around the region on the rest of the tour!
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