It’s daft, it’s cheesy and its director overdoes the sequins and spangles, but you can’t help falling for the heavenly Alexandra Burke as diamond in the rough, Doloris Van Cartier, in Sister Act which is now touring the country.
It opened last night at Milton Keynes Theatre and proved to be a real crowd-pleaser. Set in 1977 Philadelphia it takes a trip down memory lane with music inspired by the great Philly sound, fashions for big hair, ‘fros, loud suits and disco dresses, and movie nostalgia with nods to Saturday Night fever and Star Wars.
Fans of the original 1992 Whoopi Goldberg film will feel right at home with Burke playing sassy nightclub singer Deloris who hides from her boyfriend in a local convent after witnessing a murder.
Burke turned in an astonishingly good performance in the recent UK tour of The Bodyguard and here, matures into a fine leading lady but let’s hope that future producers don’t typecast her as a gobby, in-your-face, diva.
But there are occasions in this comedy musical that I found it difficult to understand the star’s dialogue as she talks quickly and in a deep-throated, husky, American accent.
Sister Act doesn’t pretend to be great art or theatre but it is entertaining. Moving the action from the film’s modern day setting to 1977 is inspired. The song list leans heavily on the iconic Philly sound and the men’s costumes (the decade that forgot about taste and style) are suitably outlandish.
The plot is absurd but get over it and go with the flow for there’s little depth to this story of redemption and justice.
Deloris is taken to a down-at-heel convent to hide away until she can give evidence against her gangster boyfriend, nightclub owner Curtis (Aaron Lee Lambert). The Mother Superior is horrified to find the devil in their midst. Deloris is loud, argumentative, wayward and provocative. How can they possibly get on?
“Mother Superior, you took a vow of charity!” exclaims the Monsignor. “I take it back!” she snarls.
But the answer comes through music. The nuns are the world’s worst singers and you might want to take along earplugs for the early part of the show.
Karen Munn’s exasperated Mother Superior decides to put singer Deloris in the choir to keep her out of trouble.
“You can sing with the choir,” she tells her. “Are they any good?” Asks Deloris. “There are no words….” replies the nun.
There are some really fun set pieces including a SNF dream sequence where street cop Eddie (Jon Robyns rocking a handlebar moustache and white John Travolta suit) struts his stuff with I Could Be That Guy and, later, the nuns belting out Take Me To Heaven.
On occasions director Craig Revel Horwood (yes, it is he) gets totally carried away. The campest company of pink spangled dancers ever dazzle in Fabulous, Baby! While the theatre is bedecked with no less than three glitter balls. The finale is all sequins and furs.
What lets the production down is the increasing use of actor musicians. The show ought to have a 12-piece orchestra but someone, I’m guessing the cost conscious producers from Leicester Curve, decided to cut that down to just four and have the cast make up the numbers.
Would you ask ballet dancer Darcey Bussell to play the tambourine while en pointe? Or suggest Maggie Smith knock out a tune on the bagpipes while performing Macbeth?
A company of actors should be concentrating on giving good performances for their acting, not having to concentrate on playing an instrument in-between their dialogue.
And it ruins any credibility the character may have. How many nuns have you seen wandering around with a clarinet tucked into their habit, or a cop with a violin hidden about his Kevlar jacket?
That niggle aside Sister Act is a funny, feelgood show that has a habit of growing on you – though still baffled by the appearance of a single male nun during one song. Er..why?
Running at Milton Keynes Theatre until Saturday and then touring.
Sister Act is a featherweight feelgood comedy with the divine Alexandra Burke a blessing in disguise.