It’s 1977, Saturday Night Fever has just been released and disco is king!
Deloris Van Cartier (Alexandra Burke) sees her gangster boyfriend, the nightclub owner Curtis Jackson (Aaron Lee Lambert) shoot small time crook Ernie who he believes has squealed on him to the police.
Deloris is terrified and runs to the police where she tells her story to the policeman on the front desk who she recognises from her school days as Sweaty Eddie (Jon Robyns). For her safety till she gives evidence he decides she needs to go into a witness protection program and sends her to a place no one would expect to find her, a convent!
Deloris is introduced to the other nuns by a reluctant Mother Superior (Karen Mann) as Sister Mary Clarence and she quickly takes on the role of leading the choir of sisters, who are really quite awful
The convent is in financial trouble due to a shrinking congregation and is due to be sold. Under Deloris’ guidance the choir improves which brings the congregation back and raises money to stop the church being sold.
News of the choir spreads far and wide, and they are asked to sing for the Pope who is visiting Philadelphia. Despite being in a witness program, Deloris can’t resist the limelight and appears on TV with the sisters to publicise the coming concert for the Pope. The gangsters she is hiding from, see her TV appearance and attempt to bring her back. They gain entry to the convent by dressing as nuns, but before Curtis carries out his threat to shoot Deloris, Sweaty Eddie arrives to save the day and he and Deloris share a kiss.
The finale sees the sisters singing for the Pope a wonderfully uplifting rendition of Spread the Love Around followed by Take Me to Heaven/Raise Your Voice as the equally uplifting curtain call.
Sister Act the movie burst onto the scene in 1992 starring Whoopi Goldberg as Deloris and Dame Maggie Smith as the Mother Superior with musical arrangements by Marc Shaiman. This stage show moves the action to Philadelphia, there is a completely new musical score beautifully composed by Alan Menken with lyrics by Glenn Slater and the finale is a concert for the Pope rather than a singing competition.
The performances of Deloris (Alexandra Burke), Sister Mary Patrick (Susannah Van Den Berg), Sister Mary Robert (Sarah Goggin) and Sister Mary Lazarus (Rosemary Ash) are central to the narrative and provide some very funny moments.
Burke’s command of the musical score is very impressive and the confidence she has in her voice translates into her comedy which reveals a side to her not seen before.
Special mention for Sara Goggin who is wonderful as rebellious Sister Mary Robert. Her rendition of The Life I Never Led is one of the shows highlights.
Huge respect for the band both on and off the stage who are first class. The Brighton Centre is not the easiest of venues to put sound into but for this production the sound is spot on as are the musicians.
Craig Revel Horwood’s direction and choreography is masterful. His references to 70s disco throughout the show bringing a real nostalgia to the production. I believed this was the 70s and the solid music score served to reinforce that. His use of musicians on stage only added to the comedy. There is nothing quite so funny as seeing a nun playing a trombone, trumpet or saxophone while running away from a gangster.
It is always a risk bringing a West End Show out of a theatre and into an arena. Sister Act transferred very well and hopefully will herald more of the larger West End Musicals vistiting Brighton.
The Brighton Centre audience last night loved the show, it was uplifting and optimistic and in these days of uncertainty created by Brexit and Trump a perfect remedy and great night out.
Sister Act plays till Saturday, January 14.
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