Sister Act – Review – Bradford Alhambra
Sister Act – Review
Bradford Alhambra, February 2017
by Matthew Walker
The 1992 film starring Whoopi Goldberg and Maggie Smith is given the all-singing, all-dancing treatment in this feel-good stage production. This is the second UK tour of the musical, which opened in the West end in 2009, before going on its first UK tour two years later. Now, the nuns are back in their habits for a second tour of the UK, which has reached Bradford’s stunningly beautiful Alhambra Theatre.
The tour’s director and choreographer, Strictly Come Dancing‘s Craig Revel Horwood, treats the audience to a “fab-u-lous” showcase of variety and versatility. Not least because most of the orchestra instruments can be seen on stage, played by the multi-talented actors themselves. It’s almost as though the music itself is taking centre stage.
For this tour Alexandra Burke, of The X-Factor and The Bodyguard fame, takes on the lead role as Deloris van Cartier. She’s the sexy, sassy, showgirl with big dreams of club stardom. With such exceptional vocal talent, Burke really does come out shining, backed up by all the swagger of a sensual soul diva. She definitely looks and sounds the part, bringing plenty of glitz and glamour, and looks perfectly out of place in a nun’s habit – but that’s the point. It reinforces the idea of two separate worlds – the raucous materialistic world of showbiz and the simplicity of the humble convent – thrown together by fate.
“The production very much has its own identity”
Fans of the 1992 film may remember the plot, and not too much has changed in that respect. Showgirl Deloris witnesses a murder, perpetrated by her gangster lover Curtis, played with equal doses of charm and menace by Aaron Lee Lambert, and goes on the run.
She runs to police officer “Sweaty” Eddie Souther who decides they must hide Deloris in a place no criminal would ever look… a convent, under the watchful eye of the strict authoritarian Mother Superior. This sets up the main crux of the story. The nuns at the convent aren’t exactly people Deloris would ever associate with in her world of fame and fortune. Plus, she certainly doesn’t fit into their world – a situation that unfolds in a very humorous fashion. But it’s when those worlds begin to meld that you really feel the magic of the show. Especially when backed up by the big numbers ‘Raise Your Voice’ and ‘Take Me to Heaven’.
The plot and characters are where the comparisons between this show and the film end. Sister Act gets a complete make-over in terms of original music by Alan Menken. He is the composer on Disney’s Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast and Enchanted. Plus, there are superbly witty lyrics by Glenn Slater. However, the setting of this Sister Act is late-1970s Philadelphia. Therefore the music and dance routines are heavily inspired by a strong soul and disco theme. A heavenly combination. Comparisons can be made, but the whole production, from the music to the costumes, very much has its own identity – and it is better for it.
The supporting cast superbly embellishes all aspects, and often bridges the gap between the subplots – with big numbers from cop Eddie (‘I Could be That Guy’), Mother Superior (‘I Haven’t Got a Prayer’) and novice nun Sister Mary Robert (‘The Life I Never Led’), as well as plenty of giggles. A major source of the laughs come from the caterwauling of the passionate, and often over-zealous choir, particularly the strongly overpowering voice of the ever-jolly Sister Mary Patrick, played with aplomb by Susannah van den Berg, and the deadpan antics of the old-school Sister Mary Lazarus (Liz Kitchen).
As Deloris helps the choir and in particular, quiet and meek Sister Mary Robert (Sarah Goggin) find their voices, ultimately it’s the story’s key themes of acceptance, sisterhood and friendship that really uplift the spirit and generate a genuine warmth, which really does take you to heaven.
images: Tristram Kenton