When Sister Act is in town, with songbird Alexandra Burke in the lead role and production choreographed and directed by Craig Revel Horwood, what else is a girl to do but hot-foot it down to The Regent Theatre with the self-proclaimed number one Sister Act fan – her brother – in tow..?
In a change to the usual style of review, today’s musings will be delivered as a tale of two halves – courtesy of the Sister Act novice (I’ve seen the second film, but can’t remember the first), and he who apologised in advance for the singing that would undoubtedly occur throughout the performance.
Sister Act transports us to the Philly soul scene in the late 1970s, and tells the story of singer Deloris Van Cartier, who seeks refuge in a convent of all places, after witnessing her married lover commit murder. Under the guise of an out-of-town nun, Deloris is tasked with putting her vocal talent to good use by transforming a bunch of hilariously out-of-tune Sisters into a harmonious choir.
It’s no surprise that Alexandra Burke can sing – she did win X Factor after all – but it turns out this girl can act too, and wowed the audience not only with her powerful voice, but her personification of disco diva, Van Cartier. (Bonus points for a convincing American accent, which was maintained throughout!)
The role was originally made famous by Whoopi Goldberg in the 1992 movie and while Burke is undoubtedly the star of the show, her character is wonderfully supported by the ‘Sisters’. My personal favourite was Karen Mann as the trumpet playing Mother Superior; her ‘no nonsense’ attitude the perfect antidote for the sassy Deloris. Police Officer Eddie – played by Joe Vetch – got my attention too, with his Saturday Night Fever-esque dance moves and his speedy character transformations.
The gothic set – created by designer Matthew Wright – lent itself to every scene; from nightclub stage to police cell, bar and convent, and was perfectly enhanced by Richard G Jones’ lighting design which helped sustain an ethereal quality. Musical accompaniment was provided by various members of the talented cast who left the orchestra pit to deliver instrumental performances in character.
The storyline wasn’t particularly taxing, but based on entertainment value alone, the show was a definite winner for me. But what of the Sister Act aficionado? Sadly, he didn’t share my enthusiasm; his main bone of contention being Craig Revel Horwood’s decision to replace the popular film score – a surefire disappointment for fellow hardcore ‘Sisters’ (or brothers!) who expected to sing along to the songs they’d enjoyed on screen. Apparently there were other differences too, including a romance between Deloris and ‘Sweaty Eddie’, which somehow didn’t make the original cut.
So, while my toes were tapping happily to the upbeat tunes, and I dutifully responded to prompts to clap along with the cast, the deviation from the celebrated classic may explain why the audience appeared slow to get to their feet during the final chorus. For what it’s worth, I still think it was a hell of a good show, and would heartily recommend checking it out for yourself!
Sister Act – The Musical is on at The Regent, Stoke-on-Trent until Saturday 13th May. Tickets are available from The Regent Theatre Box Office, by calling 0844 871 7649 or visiting.