Sister Act: Palace Theatre

I am posting this shamefully late – my original review was posted on the British Theatre Guide site well over a week ago – so apologies folks.

Craig Revel Horwood’s new production of musical comedy Sister Act lights up the Palace Theatre stage this week, complete with disco balls, sequinned habits and Alan Menken’s score performed live. Alexandra Burke—who last Christmas wowed Manchester audiences as Rachel Marron in The Bodyguard—takes on the starring role of the equally glamorous diva Deloris van Cartier.

As in the 1992 classic film, Sister Act sees Deloris—an aspiring singer in ’70s Philadelphia—inadvertently witness her mobster boyfriend commit murder. Forced by police to hide out in a convent, Deloris reluctantly dons a habit, but soon finds her feet when she is tasked with improving the choir.

Burke is a sassy, beautiful Deloris and her vocals are flawless throughout, but her comic timing could be sharper and her physical comedy less awkward. Jon Robyns—who stars opposite Burke as Deloris’s eventual love interest, shy police officer “Sweaty” Eddie—also has an excellent voice, but unfortunately only has one number in which to showcase it.

One of the highlights of the show is the moment of the nuns’ hilarious first entrance, solemnly processing onto the stage whilst singing a shrill and tuneless “Sanctus.” This comic contrast also comes across in “It’s Good To Be A Nun” in which the choir gleefully regales Deloris with all the hard details of their lives, from 4am starts to self-flagellation. Choir leader Sister Mary Lazarus (Rosemary Ashe) is the most vividly characterised nun, garnering huge cheers when she raps in Latin or appears with baseball cap and gold chains over her habit.

Music is provided live onstage by the cast members—supplemented by a small band—and it’s as impressive as ever watching a group of performers who can switch seamlessly from acting to singing to playing an instrument (or two). Clever staging incorporates the musicians effectively into each number—for the convent, they are dressed in habits and positioned on a balcony. For Eddie’s song (“I Could Be That Guy”) performed outside a bar, they are drunken tramps, lying across the stage or vomiting in corners between lines.

In spite of this injection of variety, the show does feel particularly song-heavy, with a high volume of reprise numbers slowing the story down on occasion. While no one song stands out as the signature of the show, each one is lively, catchy and performed with real heart and soul.

From the moment the curtain rises to the final burst of the glitter confetti cannon, Sister Act is an infectiously funny and feel-good show that guarantees to make you smile. And maybe even sing.

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