I am always sceptical about musicals that have been adapted from film. They are often simply commercial ventures, where creative impulses are sacrificed for the sake of profit. Sister Act: The Musical feels like a mixture of the creative and the commercial. It is a fun musical, and Deloris Van Cartier is a more naïve character than when played by Whoopi Goldberg in the original film. However, the show doesn’t add much to the film, and I am unsure what its impact would be to someone lacking in knowledge of the source material. However, this collaboration between LUTG, LuDans, and ULMS was so energetic, and fun to watch that anyone could have been swept away in its joy.
For those unfamiliar with the premise, Deloris Van Cartier is a lounge singer in Philadelphia who witnesses her gangster boyfriend Curtis murder a police informant. To protect her from being killed by the gang to keep her quiet, Deloris is placed under witness protection in a convent where she has to adjust to life as Sister Mary Clarence, and takes charge of the convent choir.
This adaptation sadly does not feature the songs from the film. This makes sense for the musical to stand alone from its source material, but it means that some of the film’s most joyous moments are not seen on stage. However, there is a new score, which is mixed, with highs such as Take Me To Heaven and Raise Your Voice and various lows of mostly bland songs performed by the men.
The show itself doesn’t really get going until Deloris arrives at the convent and the ensemble sisterhood of nuns become part of the action – and they really are a sisterhood, the energy between the ensemble makes it clear that this is a cast who love and support each other, something that is evident in how they perform together. Watching twenty women singing in harmony, dancing in nun costumes is something that will always be entertaining, and the singing in this production was sublime.
Tolia Uwalaka shows huge promise as Deloris Van Cartier, she really carries the show – which was a huge production with a large cast. Her energy is amazing, as is her voice. Among the other standout performances were Sophie Goodman as the Mother Superior who had excellent comic timing and Emily Millard and Gail Breslin as Sisters Mary Robert and Mary Patrick. I couldn’t help but feel less interested in the male characters as the performances by the female actors were so powerful; the male actors seemed to fight for attention in a show that is by nature dominated by great female roles.
The music, performed by ULMS was fantastic – there’s nothing like a performance with a live band. The set was also very effective, made up of three church portals which were very professionally realised. LuDans’ choreography fit right in, and it was evident that the three societies collaborated very successfully.
Whilst the choices of Sister Act this year and Legally Blonde in 2017 hardly represent the pinnacle of the musical theatre, and I hope the groups choose something more difficult with a greater critical reputation for their collaboration next year, I still very much enjoyed this performance. It was slow in parts, and it was very long, though it didn’t feel as long as it was. It was the ensemble of nuns that made it great. One got a sense that they were all playing different characters despite having minor roles and their energy combined with that of Goodman and Uwalaka were enough to lift the roof off the Nuffield.
This was a very good show, a sisterhood performed by a sisterhood that in its best moments took me to heaven.