Sister Act at the Lichfield Garrick – Review
Sutton Coldfield Musical Theatre Company
Dress Rehearsal, Monday 23 September 2019
By Resident Theatre Reviewer, Jono Oates
As I walked down to the Lichfield Garrick yesterday evening a heavy drizzle descended on the city and, despite the fact that it was still only 7pm, it was already dark, miserable and, to be honest, simply and undeniably depressing.
But, just a couple of hours later my little, two left versions of, size 7 feet bounced and twirled up Market Street as I headed, widening grin on my face and spring in my step, towards my favourite local to enjoy a post-show pint and packet of pork scratchings…and the reason for this grey-sky-to-blue 360 degree about-turn? Well my Monday evening was spent in the joyous company of the Sutton Coldfield Musical Theatre Company (SCMTC) as they sashayed, grooved and swung in their fabulous latest production – Sister Act!
Based on the 1992 film, notably starring Whoopi Goldberg in the lead role, this musical was first performed in Pasadena, USA, in 2006 and opened in the West End at the London Palladium in 2009. The original music for the musical was written by Alan Melken with lyrics by Glenn Slater.
The SCMTC provide a perfect antidote to the dreary autumnal drizzle with this uplifting, toe-tapping, engaging and upbeat musical about bad-girl-turned-good Deloris and her newly found friendship with a group of nuns who offer her protection for the local hoodlums.
The storyline of Sister Act is refreshingly easy to follow, there are no complicated plotlines and, if you’ve seen the film, you’ll have no problem keeping track of what is going on.
Night club singer Deloris Van Cartier performs with her group, the Ronelles, in Nevada under the ‘protection’ of her boyfriend, the oily and sinister Curtis Shank (great names!!). When Deloris accidentally witnesses the clumsy execution of one of Curtis’s gang members she makes herself scarce and goes on to the police witness protection scheme. The local police chief, Lieutenant Eddie Souther, a former old flame of Deloris, comes up with the crazy idea of secreting her in the last place Curtis the Crook will ever, ever think of finding her…a nun’s convent.
Deloris, a lifetime lapsed Catholic, has absolutely no idea about holy orders, prayers or vows of silence but she does have an expertise in one area…singing. As the nuns have all of the musical ability of a pack of caterwauling cats, they are soon transformed into a group of super-smooth gospel singing sisters under the genial patronage of the convent’s Monsignor but also under the beady, and disapproving, glare of the Mother Superior.
As the supposedly undercover Deloris helps the convent restore its financial fortunes that threaten to close it down once and for all, she becomes more and more well known and she is soon set to appear on local television as the group are requested to perform in front of the Pope himself. However, bringing attention to herself also brings the wholly unwanted attention of Curtis and his band of thugs, who spot her on the television and steal in to the convent to rub her out before she consigns them to a lifetime behind bars.
Will Curtis get to Deloris and dispatch her to heaven before the cops can get to the baddies? Will the Mother Superior and the sisters protect her and save the day or let her be fed to the wolves? And will Lieutenant Souther become the hero of the hour and get the girl of his schoolboy dreams…
The SCMTC provide a perfect antidote to the dreary autumnal drizzle with this uplifting, toe-tapping, engaging and upbeat musical about bad-girl-turned-good Deloris and her newly found friendship with a group of nuns who offer her protection from the local hoodlums.
The opening feelgood songs of Take Me to Heaven and Fabulous Baby set the tone of a cracking, entertaining and soulful first act, which closes with a fabulous reprise of Take Me to Heaven and leaves you feeling uplifted and joyful – it was truly Fabulous, Baby!
The second act is more measured and deals with the relationships between Deloris and Lt Souther, Deloris and her fellow nuns and and her car-crash relationship with bad boy Curtis. As the relationships resolve themselves and the fight between wrong and right, cops and robbers and good and evil come to a frantic ending, the tempo increases again and the closing numbers of the eponymous Sister Act and encore Spread the Love Around provide a joyous finale as the whole cast spread the love and feel good factor around the Garrick stage.
The experienced SCMTC take to this musical like a duck to (September) water, with an obvious relish and a joie de vivre which is definitely contagious. This musical is all about sisterhood and the female cast members are all very strong in their performances. Deb Crump is the embattled Mother Superior, trying desperately to cling on to the true traditional values of the convent against the all-consuming tide of warmth and affection that her brood hold for Deloris. Paula Lumsden plays Sister Mary Lazarus, the former conductor of the original convent choir who realises that she is no match for Deloris and, probably quite willingly, surrenders her position to her. Beth Dickson is Sister Mary Robert (they’re all called Mary…) as the young woman forced to choose between her true vocation and the more wayward – but fun – lifestyle of Deloris. She has a lovely strong voice and this particularly shines through on the haunting and heartfelt The Life I Never Led as she laments the loss of an early adulthood given up to the church – just beautiful. Naomi O’Borne is fantastic fun as the bouncy, Tigger-like, desperate to please Sister Mary Patrick, her enthusiasm and spirit is very infectious, and her performance is entirely watchable in every scene, whether a speaking part or not.
The men are represented by Anil Patel, Dave Crump and Matthew Collins as the Three Stooges of Curtis’s henchmen, John Johnson as the kindly Monsignor who brings a comforting mixture of warmth and resigned world-weariness to the role, Jonathan Blake as the lovelorn Lt Souther, with the unfortunate moniker of Sweaty Eddie, who shows some fine moves as he sings a lament for his would-be lover Deloris on I Could Be That Guy. Leader of the gang is the experienced Ben Adams as Curtis who is suitably threatening as the man who wants rid of his former moll turned stool pigeon. I particularly liked the song When I Find My Baby, sung by Curtis with his gang as backing singers, which has the easy-going musical sound of a Barry Manilow ballad, but with razor sharp, menacing and life threatening lyrics as he vows to punish Deloris for her indiscretions – very funny and clever.
The star of the show however is Marsha Webbe at the wondrously named Deloris Van Cartier – a fantastic singing voice and a real presence on stage, a very likeable and warm performance as she fluctuates between leading her flock of nuns astray, to recognising that she owes a duty of care to them. She delivers some great one comic one liners and is perfectly cast.
The show is directed by Paul Lumsden with assurance and the cast look very comfortable and happy throughout as some of the photographs that I took on the night of their dress rehearsal clearly show. This a set that contains a lot of scene changes and multiple costume changes so is a challenging musical to put on but Paul has managed to achieve some great personal, and group, performances form his experienced and well-rehearsed cast. Aimee Holding makes her SCMTC, and Garrick, debut as the choreographer and there are some great dance routines, with some of the ensemble pieces a shimmering of movement, sparkly costumes and syncopation. Musical Direction is by Sheila Pearson and the nine strong orchestra are excellent, a musical cocktail of the soundalike snippets of soul, Motown, the Philly Sound and Chic which provides a perfect musical backdrop to the show.
If you want a bit of relief from this week’s rain, and the remnants of Hurricane Humberto, then head on down to the Lichfield Garrick where the SCMTC are kicking up their own joyful storm in Sister Act – they will guarantee to drive those grey skies away and fill your evening with sunshine and blue skies!
Sister Act, by the Sutton Coldfield Musical Theatre Company, is on at the Lichfield Garrick main theatre from Tuesday 24 to Saturday 28 September. Performances start at 7.30pm and there is a matinee at 2.30pm on Saturday 28. Ticket prices start at £18.00 per person and are available from the Garrick Box Office at Castle Dyke, ring 01543 412121 or visit: www.lichfieldgarrick.com/whats-on/musicals