STRICTLY COME DANCING JUDGE
Sister Act - Telegraph Review Claire Allfree17th Aug 2016
For a show whose premise is as flimsy as a hymn sheet, the musical adaptation of the 1992 film starring Whoopi Goldberg is surprisingly resilient – it was only four years ago that the first UK production finished a nationwide tour.
But this all-new revival, directed by Strictly Come Dancing's Craig Revel Horwood, shows why. Not only is Bill and Cheri Steinkellner's adaptation faithful to the movie, it is blissfully silly. It's also a vehicle for a strong female talent, and in 2008 X Factor winner Alexandra Burke, as the raunchy soul diva on the run, that's exactly what it's got.
Alexandra Burke as Sister Mary Clarence CREDIT: TRISTRAM KENTON
The plot is, of course, ludicrous. After witnessing a gangland killing, brassy, African-American lounge singer Deloris Van Cartier is given witness protection in a strict, predominantly all-white convent, surroundings in which she sticks out like an elephant in a choir stall. But after taking over the dull choir rehearsals, she turns the tone-deaf nuns into disco sensations, and in doing so sends the dwindling church attendance through the roof.
Alan Menken's score relocates the action to the Seventies, mainly to exploit the era's rich musical heritage. The exuberant soul and disco soundtrack feels tailor-made to suit Burke's oaked, sinewy voice, which ripples and soars like a creature rising from the deep. Her Deloris is both brash and touchingly human. Crucially, Burke also invests her performance with excellent comic timing, vital for a show that sends up everything it touches and draws laughs from a group of gangsters in flares thinking themselves Donny Osmond.
CREDIT: TRISTRAM KENTON
Revel Horwood's production has lashings of surreal energy, compensating for source material that, in truth, is about as nourishing as a communion wafer. Most of the cast double up as members of the band, so you not only are we greeted with nuns toting saxophones but prostitutes in prison playing the fiddle.
He makes particularly good use of the show's several musical fillers, notably the stand-out dream sequence, I Could Be That Guy, in which Jon Robyns' moon-eyed policeman Eddie gives voice to his inner Elvis while accompanied by a cackle of down-and-outs drunkenly toting the clarinet and vomiting into the gutter.
CREDIT: TRISTRAM KENTON
There's fine support from Karen Mann in the original Maggie Smith role as the beleagured Mother Superior, alarmed to find her Order suddenly full of "celibate nuns shaking their buns", and from the nice range of individually characterised Sisters, who prove keen to ditch Ave Maria for grinding hip hop. It won't save your soul but it will make it feel great.
On tour until July 15, 2017; tickets: sisteractuktour