Sister Act starring Alexandra Burke as singer Deloris Van Cartier is playing at The Edinburgh Playhouse, and from 3rd to 15th April brings a big slice of that classic 1970s Philadelphia sweet soul/disco groove sound to town.
Sister Act the musical is of course an adaptation of the 1992 film starring Whoopi Goldberg, and transferring any film to the stage (let alone a touring production) is always going to be a difficult job as the production requirements are so different, and many fail completely in the task. Sister Act, I am happy to say, is one production that has managed to retain the essence of the original film and the fun of not only the characters, but the joy of the music as we follow Deloris into a convent to hide from her gangster boyfriend against whom she plans to testify in a murder trial.
It’s been a while now since Alexandra Burke rode that usually one ride only roller coaster to short term fame called The X Factor and won the 2008 show, and it is good to see how a combination of talent and hard work have over the years since given her new stages to perform on in musical theatre. Alexandra is a very good Deloris, and as songs like "Take Me to Heaven" and "Sister Act" show, a very good R & B/Soul singer. Some of the more dramatic moments in the show may be with other characters, but Alexandra also has when needed the light comedy timing for this character.
Sister Act though has more than one good character, and Karen Mann as Mother Superior gets to steal so much of this show for herself with a combination of a solid dramatic presence, some great comedy lines and one of the best numbers in the show, "Haven't Got a Prayer". Also an interesting character as her role develops is young postulant Sister Mary Robert who is upon meeting Deloris questioning many things in her life and Sarah Goggin performs this character with gentle sensitivity and a great performance of "The Life I Never Led". Aaron Lee Lambert as club owner and Deloris’s “boyfriend” Curtis also puts in some classic soul vocals here on "When I Find My Baby".
To single out any more of our choir of nuns would be unfair as this production is an ensemble performance and everyone simply does the job on stage in style.
Direction and choreography on this production is by Craig Revel Horwood, and he has done a very good job here making sure the story is told while at the same time giving us some classic song and dance routines and keeping that 70s Philly sound beating throughout the whole production…with one exception…that little rap number. Why oh why is it there? It just sounds so out of place with everything else and has nothing to add either music wise or story wise to the production…it’s not even a good rap number.
Sister Act is a quality production and set and costume design by Matthew Wright just set the visuals so well. Part of that success visually has to go too to lighting designer Richard G Jones.
This production is, like all good productions, operating on more than one story level. If you just want to sit back and enjoy the show, great music and an auditorium swirling under the lights of spinning disco glitter-balls then this is a perfect show for you, but there is also a deeper story here of Deloris realising what she really wants from life and that maybe there is more to it than chasing fame and fortune…maybe a home, a life shared with someone and people she can trust like “Her Sisters” are far more important and fulfilling in the end.
My “Sound of Music” view of nuns was forever shattered with the original film, and I keep expecting any production with a nun in it to somehow break into a “Sister Act” routine now, so this show was just perfect for me and so much fun to watch.
Review by Tom King