Review: Sister Act Musical at Newcastle Theatre Royal
Sister Act – Monday 19th June
Don’t miss this eagerly anticipated brand new production of the Broadway and UK smash hit musical Sister Act direct from London.
All your prayers have been answered with a stunning cast, including TV and West End legend Lesley Joseph, West End sensation and Hairspray favourite Lizzie Bea and Emmerdale and Waitress star Sandra Marvin as Deloris, everyone’s favourite nun on the run!
Disco diva Deloris’ life takes a surprising turn when she witnesses a murder. Placed under protective custody she is hidden in the one place she shouldn’t be found – a convent! Encouraged to help the struggling choir, she helps her fellow sisters find their true voices as she unexpectedly rediscovers her own.
Featuring original music by Tony® and 8-time Oscar® award-winner Alan Menken (Disney’s Aladdin, Enchanted) and songs inspired by Motown, soul and disco, this heavenly musical is joyous and uplifting in equal measures. A musical sent from above, Sister Act is the brilliant, must-see show which raises the spirits and warms the soul time after time. This is what Newcastle Theatre Royal tells us about Sister Act and it is very difficult to feel sad whilst watching this glorious production, that is for certain. Entering the theatre it has to be one the busiest opening nights I have seen as of late just backing up its popularity.
Stemming from the cult classic 1992 Whoopi Goldberg musical, Sister Act is as old as me! However, it is still a firm favourite in so many households and just seems to transcend time. This particular production has been in motion since their first rehearsal date of Monday 16th March 2020! It has finally been able to grace our stage here in Newcastle, three whole years later and how lucky are we to get to witness it!
Sister Act will always be such a special show to me as in my local am-dram I did my very first principal part as the lady herself, Deloris Van Cartier and had one of the greatest weeks of my life. These songs have to be some of the best in musical theatre. Funky melodies, incredibly clever lyrics and a real mixture of fun and meaningful songs makes for the most wonderful score. Alan Menken on Music and Glenn Slater as the Lyricist were clearly just a match made in heaven. I have never seen Sister Act done in this way before. Quite honestly, the casting of this show was refreshing for me. Diverse, unique and properly brilliant. It was so amazing to see such a varied cast of age, race, size with lots of plus size representation up on that stage too. I felt immensely proud to be watching this greatness unfold in front of my eyes.
The Theatre Royal was adorned with three gigantic disco balls which sparkled so beautifully as the lights ascended during Deloris’ first number Take Me to Heaven. I am a magpie, so anything that sparkles gets my vote! A really clever use of lighting here as the whole of the Theatre Royal was transformed into Curtis Jackson’s nightclub with the mirrorball effect. I adored the signage when we first walked in as well, and the use of lighting throughout was incredibly effective. Especially during the scenes with the nuns in the church, the dark,mysterious and grim lighting of the church at night and the way spotlights hit the different characters during their solos. Very impactful… but of course my favourite use of light was the whole stage turning into a gigantic rainbow at the end. Just stunning! A great job lighting team Designer- Tim Mitchell, Head of Lighting – Chris Pearson and Deputy Head of Lighting- Craig Stevenson.
This version of Sister Act begins in a slightly different way to any other production of it I have seen before and it worked really well with setting the scene. Our Mother Superior was introduced to us from the off and the cheer from the crowd showed that people were just so excited to see Lesley Joseph in this role. She truly is a British icon of the TV and Pantomime worlds – Dorien Green from Birds of a Feather is her alter ego- we were just so excited to see what she would bring to the grumpy yet ever faithful Mother Superior role. Lesley Joseph showed off her acting chops from the get go and truly gave us an acting masterclass. She gave the character the perfect amount of light and shade – totally miserable but with a glimmer of warmth throughout. Her songs were sung/ spoken beautifully and she really made the most of her vocals. She knew exactly what was in her limitation of singing and worked perfectly with it. Her diction was clear throughout and she looked the part too. She made the most wonderful Mother Superior and her rendition of I Haven’t Got a Prayer was just brilliant – brilliant physical comedy and acting too. Her shaving her chin at the beginning of the number got a particularly loud laugh from the audience.
The wonderful and highly accredited Sandra Marvin took the stage as our main lady, Deloris Van Cartier. Some of Sandra’s previous musical roles have been standouts from Motormouth in Hairspray to Becky in Waitress so I was expecting good things. From the moment she took to the microphone in her opening number she just embodied Deloris – sexy, sassy and trouble. A real twinkle in her eye. Her singing voice was powerful and very different to how I have ever heard it being done before but I really did enjoy it. However, her acting really stood out for me last night. Wow, just wow! If anyone wants to do this role again they need to take note! Her comic timing was impeccable and she had the audience in the palm of her hand. She never missed a beat particularly in her scene where she first meets the other nuns as Sister Mary Clarence- Holy Smokes! If it ain’t Mutton it ain’t Nuttin! This is definitely one of the most intense roles to play as Deloris rarely leaves the stage and Sandra’s energy was unmatched throughout. Her song Sister Act was beyond beautiful and she really captured its essence. She made us howl with laughter one minute and then uncontrollably sob the next. Brilliant work.
The relationships and comradery upon the stage were very evident and the cast blended together seamlessly whilst looking like they were having so much fun. During Raise Your Voice, we got to see the voices of Sister Mary Patrick and Sister Mary Robert shine. Two of the most wonderful roles within the show played to perfection. I actually think all of the nuns did a stellar job and their harmonies in It’s Good to Be a Nun, Raise Your Voice and Sunday Morning Fever were incredibly tight. For a smaller group, they produced a hell of a noise! Speaking of hell, the singing pre- Deloris was awful … in the best way! How can such good singers sing so badly?
Sister Mary Patrick was played by Catherine Millsom who had the squeaky adorable but incredibly annoying voice down to a tee. Her stage presence was purely brilliant alongside her physical comedy- she really did shine on stage. Alongside her, Mary Lazerus played by Annie Smith was so funny and annihilated her raps! Mary Martin of Tours played by Lori Haley Fox was also amazing and her facial expressions had me in constant kinks.
The star nun of the show for me however, had to be Sister Mary Robert who Lizzie Bea expertly played. Lizzie Bea has been on my radar for a while recently having played Martha Dunnstock in Heathers and Tracy Turnblad in Hairspray – this woman is seriously living my dream! She played the part perfectly with equal amounts of shyness and vulnerability. I loved watching her character bloom upon stage until she reached her song which is often a crowd favourite. She had the most stunning voice and belted out The Life I Never Led with such ease. I can see her treading the boards for many years to come.
Not only were the women incredible in this show we were treated to three incredible songs from the men. First up was the turn of notorious baddie Curtis Jackson who was played by Mark Goldthorp. He played the character with the perfect amount of evil and grit and had the most wonderful sultry voice for When I Find My Baby- it even left me a little bit scared at the end. The choreography throughout this number and everytime they were on stage was amazing, slick and perfectly in time from his three sidekicks; Pablo played by Damian Buhagiar, Joey played by Tom Hopcroft and TJ played by Bradley Judge. These three provided huge comic relief and I was really impressed by their stunts on stage in the fighting scenes and especially the scene where it looked like they were chasing the Rickshaw. In their song Lady in the Long Black Dress they danced and almost Jersey Boy’d their way through the whole song. Some of the highest notes I have ever heard men sing came out during that song especially from Pablo, just wow! This musical number will definitely get your heart racing… either from laughing or the hot flushes at the bare chests.
The crowd favourite of the night however, had to be Officer Eddie Souther played by the incredibly endearing Alfie Parker. I loved how they changed his name from Sweaty Eddie to Steady Eddie. A much nicer touch. He opened up and allowed us to just fall in love with his sweet character. He didn’t over act or over sell the role either- it felt incredibly authentic and genuine which I always love. His song is an absolute stellar musical gem – I Could Be That Guy and he wow’d the whole audience with his incredible tone and range. A truly stunning piece of musical theatre occurred during this song and I will not give away any spoilers… but watch for the suit! He is by far, my favourite Steady Eddie, I have ever seen!
The costuming throughout the whole show was truly fabulous especially the boys in their 70s inspired suits. The star of the show in terms of costuming had to be those rainbow nun outfits at the end. Wow, what a visual sensation alongside, the fully rhinestoned prison outfits and police uniform. A true stroke of genius! Finally, the set was just to die for. So effortlessly maneuverable and the stained glass windows truly looked real. You can tell alot of hard work and thought has been put into the process of creating this show as a whole- every single element has been considered to perfection.
If you want a night full of feel good, uplifting and emotional musical theatre Sister Act quite frankly, cannot be missed. It was truly Fabulous Baby! You could hear me Raising My Voice at the end with a rapturous applause like the rest of the audience. This show was well and truly blessed and certainly did Take Me to Heaven. Now, where is the convent? I want to go and sing with Deloris… I mean Sister Mary Clarence!