Review: SISTER ACT, Curve Theatre Leicester, 11 August 2016

Based on the 1992 film starring Whoopi Goldberg, Sister Act premiered onstage in the West End in 2009, starring Patina Miller as Deloris Van Cartier and Sheila Hancock as the Mother Superior. The lavish production opened at the London Palladium to critical acclaim and has enjoyed many revivals across the globe ever since.

The last major UK production was in 2010, starring the now Tony award-winning Cynthia Erivo, which took the same format as the original production. Craig Revel Horwood's new take on the musical, produced by Jamie Wilson, opened officially at the Curve in Leicester last night before it begins its UK tour.

Matthew Wright's design engulfs the Curve stage with its static convent setting across two levels. The 60s/70s era is represented well by the costumes and Richard G Jones's lighting is a great mix of both natural states in the church and a bright, striking colour palette for bigger musical numbers. Richard Brooker's sound design is very appropriate to the setting, including subtle echo on dialogue occurring within the convent. The balance between the music and vocals is flawless, especially with so much going on, with many of the performers being actor-musicians.

Revel Horwood's direction massively succeeds when it comes to use of the playing space. In addition, his character work with the female protagonist, played tremendously by Alexandra Burke, is exceptional. There are a few moments which fall a little flat, particularly those involving Curtis' three wingmen, and "Lady in the Long Black Dress",should be hilarious but it just seems to be overly sexualised and overacted. However, Revel Horwood's choreography, or 'arm-ography' as he refers to it, is punchy and energetic and the nuns manage this (and their instruments) exceptionally well. During the reprise of "Fabulous Baby", the addition of a male chorus delivering the choreography around Burke is very funny.

Cheri and Bill Steinkellner's book, alongside Alan Menken's music and Glenn Slater's lyrics, makes for theatre gold. It's witty throughout and Menken ensures that everyone leaves the theatre singing. This production has adopted some of the changes made for Broadway including the removal of "How I Got The Calling" and addition of "Good To Be A Nun" and "Haven't Got A Prayer"; the latter being one of the most entertaining numbers in the show, delivered fabulously by Karen Mann as Mother Superior. Revel Horwood is known for using actor-musicians in his productions and although I was sceptical to begin with, this element does give the production another dimension.

But Sister Act is Alexandra Burke's show. Her energy levels do not dip in the two and a half hours she's onstage and her comedic side is one we haven't seen before. She's hilarious, sassy and full of attitude. Her generous interaction with other cast members allows them to feed off one another for great impact. Vocally, Burke is always astounding, but I felt her acting didn't quite match up to these standards when I saw her in The Bodyguard UK tour last year. However, she embraces Deloris' character wholeheartedly in this show and is faultless in her delivery.

Jon Robyns is, vocally, the best Eddie I have seen and although underused, he showcases all of his talents in "I Could Be That Guy". He even makes a dodgy wig look good! Sarah Goggin as Sister Mary Robert demonstrates powerful vocals from the end of Act One and her interpretation of "The Life I Never Led" leans more towards joyful rather than regretful, which is an interesting choice but works. Aaron Lee Lambert's smooth Barry White-esque vocals as Curtis are also very enjoyable. The company works closely together throughout and the overall result is formulated by a team effort.

A triumphant new production that gets the "rafters ringin'".

Sister Act plays at the Curve Theatre in Leicester until 13 August before touring the UK until August 2017.


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