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The sound of . . . well not really music as the nuns of The Little Sisters of Our Mother of Perpetual Faith show more than perpetual faith and no small degree of optimism in their singing abilities.

Sister Act

The New Alexandra Theatre

****

THE sisters have learned some new habits in this sparkling makeover by Craig Revel Horwood, ten years on from the first time Deloris Van Cartier first swept on to the stage.

Set in Philadelphia in 1979, the year of Pope John Paul II’s visit to the city, Revel Horwood has given a classy new look to the popular musical helped by a fabulous asymmetrical set by Matthew Wright and clever lighting from Richard G Jones.

And, as anyone who saw the excellent tour of Chess will know, a hallmark of a Revel Horwood production is no one is allowed on stage without an instrument, actors have to double up as the orchestra – I suspect you are not even allowed to sit on the front row without proof of musical proficiency to professional standards.

Thus we have a group of nuns with trumpets, accordion, violin, flute, clarinet, banjo and glockenspiel. Even postulant Sister Mary Robert, shy, timid with a shell a foot thick, can’t escape – being put on triangle duty.

A lovely performance by Sarah Goggin by the way, who has a beautiful voice, particularly on The life I never led. When it comes to voices though there is X-Factor winner Alexandra Burke as the fast talkingdeloris and eddie Deloris who can really belt out a tune and who showed a nice sense of comedy.

She was matched in that though by the nuns who showed some fine timing, particularly Rosemary Ashe as Sister Mary Lazarus and Susannah Van Den Berg as Sister Mary Patrick. A mention too for Karen Mann as the Mother Superior with some lovely deadpan lines.

Alexandra Burke as Deloris and Jon Robyns as Eddie

We first meet the nuns as they enter as a choir with a sound that should be classed as a weapon of mass destruction. Imagine nine cats simultaneously having their tails trapped in a door, all in a different key – nine-part disharmony. It is a noise that could break an anvil and one, surprisingly, that is incredibly difficult to sing unless you have a group of people who are totally tone deaf which this group patently aren’t. It didn’t sound it, but it took real skill.

The musical moves the action of the 1992 film on which it is based from Reno and Los Angeles to Philly but the basic story remains. Deloris sees boyfriend Curtis, the psycho baddy, played with a happy murderous air by Aaron Lee Lambert, kill one of his gang and tells the police, so she has to go into hiding with Curtis putting a price on her head.

And where better to hide a fast talking, hip swinging, drinking, smoking wanna-be star nightclub singer where knocking on Heaven’s door would be a pointless exercise than in a convent in a run-down church - The Holy Order of The Little Sisters of Our Mother of Perpetual Faith.

All of which leads to clashes with both Mother Superior and the rigid lifestyle – until Deloris transformed the excruciatingly bad choir into a hit act, pulling in the crowds and raising the cash to not only save but fix the church. But it all came at a price - mass publicity spotted by Curtis – cue dramatic finale.

The police are represented by Eddie, Sweaty Eddie, who had a crush of Deloris from High School, in a lovely performance from Jon Robyns, who has no gun but instead walks around with a guitar. Eddie has hopes of one day being the main man, the John Travolta chdeloris discoaracter, with a nice I could be that guy with a backing group of homeless alcoholics in the alley outside the bar by the convent. Transients who appear to have pawned everything for booze – apart from their instruments of course . . . this is a Revel Horwood musical remember!

And backing Deloris in the convent, or at least her money making abilities, is the swinging, sax playing Monsignor O’Hara played, in both senses, by Tim Maxwell-Clarke.

Deloris in her natural habitat

The set provides church cloisters, night club and nave in an offset walled corner with an arched gallery, while the lighting utilises three mirror balls, church windows and uplit columns all setting scenes and atmospheres in a technically complex production.

And as you would expect Revel Horwood’s choreography is slick and easy on the eye which sums up his whole production. It is slick, well paced, with well-defined contrasting moods and is very easy on the eye. The music from the 14-strong on stage orchestra is augmented by a small four piece band offstage under musical director Greg Arrowsmith, and they keep things moving along at a lively pace.

All the big numbers, such as Take Me To Heaven, Sister Act and Spread the Love Around are big in what is an entertaining and fresh new look for an old friend. To 17-09-16

Roger Clarke

12-09-16 

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