Emma Payne heads to Bristol Hippodrome for a blessed evening of ecclesiastical ecstasy and habit-shaking showmanship
How could anyone ever forget the ’90s extravaganza that was the Sister Act film, complete with Whoopi Goldberg’s Doloris Van Cartier: that hair, those fur coats and the irresistibly soulful voice? From the infectious enthusiasm and crazy eyes of Sister Mary Patrick to the sheer spectacle of the dancing choir, it’s no wonder this musical triumph topped 1992 comedy charts. Any subsequent interpretation would surely have a big habit to fill…
Directed and choreographed by Strictly Come Dancing’s Craig Revel Horwood, the award-winning stage version more than lives up to expectations. Alexandra Burke holds her own in such a well-loved role, injecting playful eccentricity and physical comedy into her performance as Doloris the disco diva, proving her versatility as a theatrical force and infallible powerhouse singer.
Alexandra Burke shines as eccentric disco diva Doloris Van Cartier, image © Tristram Kenton
Karen Mann’s Mother Superior is a far cry from Maggie Smith’s stoic original with lashings of sass and, hilariously, a secret alcohol stash. When Doloris is forced to find sanctuary in a local nunnery as part of a witness protection programme, the Mother Superior’s vow of hospitality is pushed to its limits – with hilarious results. The show really gets moving as the undercover singer transforms the church’s terrible choir into a booty-shaking gospel-funk collective, revealing the cast’s stellar singers by way of a fantastic musical montage.
Alan Menken’s original score perfectly evoked ’70s Philly soul, Motown, gospel and funk, but was bereft of the crowd-pleasing arrangements of ‘My Guy’ and ‘I Will Follow Him’ which held much of the original soundtrack’s success. That said, money saved on royalties undoubtedly went straight back into the exciting staging of the production, complete with neon glowing signs, disco lighting and dazzling costumes (the sequined habits are particularly eye-catching).
Aaron Lee Lambert as Doloris’ gangster boyfriend Curtis, with his hilariously camp ’70s henchmen, image © Tristram Kenton
The show’s antagonist, Doloris’ murderous gangster boyfriend Curtis, is suitably transformed for the stage into a fantastically camp ’70s soulster, whose only threatening feature is his dangerously wide flares. Equally marvellous are his useless henchmen, who receive rapturous applause after every appearance on stage – a highlight of the show is the trio’s slapstick attempts at wooing the nuns, convinced their masculine sexuality will win the children of God over.
So if you’re after an evening of feel-good tunes, spectacular visuals and hilarious hijinks, the Hippodrome is the place to be this week. Between disco-dancing policemen, drunken nuns and plaid flares there are plenty of sins to be confessed – and each of them more fabulous than the last.
Sister Act runs at Bristol Hippodrome until 12 August. For tickets and more information visit atgtickets.com
All images © Tristram Kenton