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This week the glorious musical ‘Sister Act’ is in Canterbury, bringing the theatrical adaptation of the 1992 film to East Kent. Following a successful West End run last summer, the production has been touring UK theatres with Sandra Marvin in the principal role of Deloris Van Cartier, Lesley Joseph as Mother Superior and Lizzie Bea as Sister Mary Robert. With a completely unique score for the stage, the musical follows a similar plot to Whoopi Goldberg’s film but there are significant differences such as the entire story taking place in Philadelphia and the reimagining of the character of Lt. Eddie Souther (Alfie Parker). As a fan of Goldberg and the original film, I was thrilled to be offered the opportunity to review the show at The Marlowe Theatre and see if the magic of the movie musical translates to the stage.
Does the material work without Whoopi Goldberg?
This is the question that I had in the back of my mind at the start of the performance as Goldberg is synonymous with Sister Act for me. In my opinion the answer is yes it does, but the show is definitely different with another performer at the helm. I didn’t have the opportunity to see Patina Miller in the original West End production but I have heard such great things and it must have been some big boots to fill, being the first Deloris after Whoopi. The UK tour’s Sandra Marvin is a vocal powerhouse and natural mover, but her portrayal is by no means an imitation of Goldberg’s. There were moments where the actor didn’t quite embody the character for me, but she definitely brought the sass and comedy.
Costumes and set design
If I were to summarise the musical in a phrase, it would be soulful disco! The production has been moved to the 1970s and the costumes, set and music reflect these changes. There are lots of sequins for a show about a convent and the finale sees the characters sport the sparkly habits in all of the colours of the rainbow. They practically dazzled in Morgan Large’s costumes, thanks to the disco ball at the front of the stage.
Moreover, I was a little disappointed by the set design, specifically the Philadelphia backdrops and the rooms of the convent. With all of the fabulous touring sets I have seen in the past couple of years, there wasn’t much to take in on stage, from the church to the nightclub and city backdrop. The focus had clearly been shifted towards the acting, music and dance which is a reasonable creative decision, but when you take away the performers, the stage sometimes appears empty.
The musical has some fantastic songs by Alan Menken and Glenn Slater which practically lift the roof off the theatre. I must have watched the ‘Raise Your Voice’ Olivier performance tens of times on YouTube over the past year, so I am sure it is no surprise to hear that I was looking forward to this scene in particular. It is a very special moment in the show, but there unfortunately seemed to be issues with the sound, specifically with the build up of the harmonies. I could barely hear the base singer and in a song where the magic is driven by the vocal parts, this rendition felt as if it missed a mark.
Furthermore, it was difficult to digest the words in a few of the lively musical numbers. The seventies diva-isms and projection of notes have a tendency to overpower the lyrics, so much so that you sometimes miss the meaning of a song. When the vocals and production value are stripped back to focus on the characters’ emotions, the articulation of Glenn Slater’s lyrics is far easier to follow and the meaning of the track shines through.
Lesley Joseph is absolutely brilliant in the role of Mother Superior. She portrays the character with elegance, grace and a touch of realism, making the audience laugh on many occasions. The character has different qualities in the stage production, but it was wonderful to see her walls breakdown throughout the material.
Lizzie Bea is also a triumph as Sister Mary Robert. The character’s high notes in Raise Your Voice is a musical theatre moment that will stick with me for a long time and I found her rendition of ‘The Life I Never Led’ to be incredibly empowering. You can’t help but root for the character and Lizzie as she sings to the rooftops.
If there was ever a musical to boost your mood, it would be Sister Act*. What it lacks in finesse in terms of the choreography and musical numbers, it makes up for in the overwhelming spirit of the performers and high energy of the production. Is it the best thing I have seen this year? No, but it is the definition of feel-good and you will leave the theatre feeling incredibly uplifted. The cast are a delight to watch, making sure the audience enjoy the show as much as they clearly enjoy being part of the musical. Sister Act is at The Marlowe Theatre until Saturday 17th June, why not seize the opportunity to see this soulful production in Canterbury. Last minute tickets can be purchased via the theatre’s website.
Thanks for reading my blog today.
Love Kat xxxx
*My ticket and programme for Sister Act were gifted in exchange for a review.