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Sister Act - musical review

Deloris van Cartier is on the run yet again, as you can now catch a double dose of the nunnery madness, either on tour or at the West End. Returning with another cast of glitz and glamour to showcase the congregation of performing greats, Sister Act is packed with fabulous tracks, comedic quips, and the overall message of solidarity, making it the ultimate feel-good musical, as revered since the iconic movie became a musical. Each spectacularly taking on their role, the stellar lineup currently stars Alexandra Burke leading effortlessly with those smooth and dreamy vocals as Deloris Van Cartier - can she escape the 'bad boys'? Of course she can, even with broken heels!

Bold and beautiful in attitude, adorned with glitz, and desperate for faux fur in her life, the wannabe singer tries to impress industry businessman/married boyfriend (and gangster), Curtis Jackson - played by Lemar. After a disappointing Christmas gift and being turned down professionally by him and his group, Deloris accidentally overhears a shooting and becomes wanted to ensure she refrains from giving evidence. On the run and in need of a hiding place, she receives her divine intervention in nun other than a habit and wimple.

Much to her disapproval, Mother Superior, perfectly embodied by the icon that is Ruth Jones, is gloriously grumpy and has no shame keeping everyone in line, their clashed personalities make for an interesting (and often gloriously sarcastic) combination. Ideal acoustics and some shockingly questionable choir voices give Deloris - renamed Sister Mary Clarence - something to work with, though the job is tough.

Amongst the visually engrossing characterisation of each of the sisters, the collective group scenes display such an array of personalities, that you never know where to look. Lesley Joseph becomes Sister Mary Lazarus, being the funky bass; joined by Lori Haley Fox as Sister Mary Martin of Tours (when the character remembered where she was!). Sister Mary Patrick, played fantastically by Alison Jiear, fills every moment with immense enthusiasm and joy in her flamboyant act, meanwhile, Eloise Runnette aces the notes as the youngest of the group, Sister Mary Robert.

Despite not every song being particularly lyrically memorable, their execution promises they are. Alan Menker's music with Glenn Slater's work too guarantees you to be grooving along in your seat, only wanting to hear more (once Deloris is in charge of teaching the choir, of course). Several have an opportunity to display their individual skill, beginning with Deloris, setting the tone with the addictive 'Take Me to Heaven' and 'Fabulous, Baby!' to kick off the show. This is soon followed by the juxtaposing 'Here Within These Walls' as Mother Superior reminisces on the place they reside. 'Raise Your Voice' is the moment the production truly comes together and reminds us what theatre is all about.

'When I Find My Baby' is Curtis' song, with Joey, TJ and Pablo (Tom Hopcroft, Bradley Judge and Damian Buhagiar respectively) showing off their 'quirky' ways, as repeated during 'Lady in the Long Black Dress', deciphering their ways to seduce a nun. A truly stand-out moment occurs when Sister Mary Robert sings 'The Life I Never Led'. Lizzie Bea aces every breath in a masterclass of theatrics through a stunning vocal performance.

Stealing the show upon each appearance, Lee Mead's depiction of policeman Eddie Souther is great. His solo, 'I Could Be That Guy' is performed brilliantly, with a quick change that is without a doubt one of the best in the industry. The production in all does well to balance the humour with the general storyline of the piece. While many elements are for the laughs and there's an unfathomable plot, it's also enjoyable to experience a mix of meaning in there too. For instance, flamboyant Monsignor O'Hara (Carl Mullaney) and his jazzy glasses in a cocktail with the track 'Sister Act', sung gently but with passion by Deloris despite her usual spark, to indicate her development and understanding of her place in the world, with a theme of community and togetherness, rather than being just entirely a comedy.

The bigger set pieces around the stage are beautifully coordinated with the light shining through them to create the stained glass effect, and disco balls too. However, the moving set pieces and props aren't particularly special (though perhaps reflective of the bland nunnery atmosphere at large), leaving the highlights to the choreography by Alistair David and the growing vocal performance, alongside the clever - yet occasionally cheesy - wit of the humour in the script and Bill Buckhurst's direction. Morgan Large's costumes complement the scenarios well, contrasting the glamour and sparkle with the monotones of the habit. The closing scenes and curtain call are an utter delight.

There's no surprise that Sister Act is such a tonic for audiences, being so timeless, established and ultimately feel-good. Leave channelling your inner diva Deloris: it’s simply fabulous, baby!


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