BWW Review: SISTER ACT, Edinburgh Playhouse
The musical adaption of the 1992 hit comedy film Sister Act premiered at the London Palladium in 2009, followed by a Broadway opening in 2010 and a UK tour in 2011, which starred Cynthia Erivo and Julie Atherton. This latest tour may be slightly smaller scale, but it loses none of the musical's original charm, and it features a very strong central performance by Alexandra Burke as Deloris Van Cartier.
When Deloris witnesses a murder, she is put into protective custody in the one place the cops are sure she won't be found: a convent. Disguised as a nun, she finds herself at odds with both the rigid lifestyle and uptight Mother Superior. Using her disco moves and singing talent to inspire the choir, Deloris breathes new life into the church but - in doing so - blows her cover, and it's not long before the gang is giving chase,
Craig Revel Horwood makes his mark on the show as director and choreographer, and several scenes have been significantly (and, in the main, successfully) reimagined, including the second-half chase scene and the finale. Award-winning set and costume designer Matthew Wright comes up with some clever original staging, and the enormous staircase that Delores descends just prior to the curtain call is a particularly effective visual treat.
As with Revel Horwood's UK tour of Chess in 2011, the most notable difference compared to the original West End production is the playing of instruments by many of the cast, but fortunately this idea is executed more effectively in Sister Act than Chess, partly due to the ensemble nature of this piece. The strange assortment of instruments (banjolele, penny whistle) played by the actor-musician nuns only helps to add to the humour in the scenes where their singing is nothing better than a tuneless cacophony, prior to intervention by Deloris.
Musical supervisor Sarah Travis's arrangements do justice to Alan Menken's catchy score. Burke gets the lion's share of the main numbers - "Take Me To Heaven", "Fabulous, Baby!", "Bless Our Show" and "Sister Act" - whilst the ensemble work is impressive in "Raise Your Voice", "Spread The Love Around" and the cleverly titled "Sunday Morning Fever".
Sarah Goggin's Sister Mary Robert shines in "The Life I Never Led", a song which wouldn't seem out of place in one of Menken's Disney scores, and Karen Mann, as a trumpet-toting Mother Superior (the role which Whoopi Goldberg herself played for a short time at the Palladium in 2010) delivers a poignant "Here Within These Walls".
Compared to the West End and original touring productions, it is somewhat of a disappointment that more is not made of the visit of a certain papal guest towards the end - after all, orchestra pits and theatre boxes have both been utilised in the past - but the talent and enthusiasm of the cast ensure that this incarnation of Sister Act is an enjoyable success.