REVIEW: Sister Act is full of sass and swagger at Nottingham Theatre Royal

A scene from Sister Act, directed and choreographed by Craig Revel Horwood �Tristram Kenton
A scene from Sister Act, directed and choreographed by Craig Revel Horwood �Tristram Kenton

Sensational! There’s only one word to describe the stage version of Sister Act when it swaggered onto stage at Nottingham’s Theatre Royal.

Picture this, the year is 1977, a time of disco balls, light-up dancefloors and impossibly ‘big’ hair.

The opening night of Sister Act was missing it's headline star....but still wowed the audience �Tristram Kenton

The opening night of Sister Act was missing it's headline star....but still wowed the audience �Tristram Kenton

And aiming for the bright lights of fame is Deloris Van Cartier, an ambitious singer who believes her gangster boyfriend and club owner, Curtis Jackson, will leave his wife and make all her dreams come true.

But those dreams are spectacularly shattered with a single gunshot as Jackson shoots dead an associate who he believes has “squeeled to the cops”.

Deloris flees and finds herself at a police station where officer ‘Sweaty’ Eddie, a form school peer who held a flame for her, pledges to protect her in return for her testimony against Jackson.

And of course where is only one place an understated (cough, splutter) entertainer like Deloris could be stashed? You’ve got it, a convent disguised as a nun!

What follows is a fast-paced riot of music and colour as Deloris butts heads with Mother Superior and leads the other nuns astray.

She eventually finds her calling by helping to shapes the choir of nuns, who can’t hold a note, into a group of singing angels who catch the attention of the Pope himself.....and, unfortunately for Deloris, cold-blooded Curtis and his ramshackle bunch of gangsters who are hell-bent on shutting her up.

Sadly, on opening night, star turn Alexandra Burke, the former X-Factor winner, who is cast as Deloris, was suffering from an injury and was under medical orders not to take the stage.

But up stepped Joanna Francis into the lead role of a show choreographed by Strictly judge Craig Revel Horwood. And all I can say is wow.

She was fabulous in the role, performing with attitude and vigour and hitting the high notes with her wonderful voice in every solo and ensemble song.

From the moment of singing Take Me To Heaven, in a bid to impress Jackson, to belting out Spread The Love Around in front of the pontiff with the rest of the choir, for me it was note perfect.

But in my humble opinion there was no weak link in the performance.

Jackson, played by Aaron Lee Lambert, was perfectly pitched as a cock-sure criminal who feels he is untouchable — a stance complemented well by his smooth vocal tones.

All of the nuns, armed with trumpets, saxophones and tambourine, were brilliant and echoed touches of the characters from the cult Sister Act movie starring Whoopi Goldberg.

Particular mention must go to Sarah Goggin as the timid Sister Mary Robert as she emerges from her cocoon to find her spectacular voice — and herself under the wing of Deloris with the help of some interesting footwear!

There is also the larger-than-life Mary Patrick (Susannah Van Den Berg), Mary Lazarus (Liz Kitchen) and Mary Theresa (Alison Harding), all backed by Monsignor O’Hara (Tim Maxwell-Clarke) as the parishioners flock back to the ailing church thanks to the music of Deloris and the choir.

The only dissenting voice comes from devout Mother Superior (Karen Mann), who refuses to back Deloris’ methods until they finally find common ground. Mann is sublime in the role and acts as the perfect foil for Francis’ Deloris.

There are also plenty of comedy moments from Jackson’s ‘crew’ played by Ricky Rojas (Pablo), Samuel Morgan-Grahame (Joey) and the hilarious Sandy Grigelis (TJ), particularly when they show their smooth side when performing Lady in the Long Black Dress.

And what’s more, the whole show is wrapped up in a brilliant finale that had the audience on their feet.

I’m not sure how Mr Horwood would rate the show, given his Strictly reputation, but i’m sure his peers would unfurl a ten.

For more on Sister Act and other shows at the Theatre Royal click here to visit the website.