Review: Sister Act. Spotlight Company. Nottingham Playhouse. 12-13 July.

Musical theatre stage stories, even those built with integrity, and often featuring love over adversity, can be a bit hit and miss as to whether they genuinely move the emotions at the end of the day. It depends on individual cast and audience interpretation and the quality of the direction, writing and acting. Clearly it is a complex issue but does it need to be?

Not with such succinct writing as this. With Sister Act the simple story of night club singer Deloris witnessing a murder done by her much older gangster boyfriend Curtis Shank (Adam Collishaw) and finding sanctuary in a convent via an ex boyfriend (now a policeman) she calls Sweaty Eddie (Stan Cook) is a total winner all round. The great score and songs feature her befriending the nuns and attempting to win round the strict Mother Superior of a convent called The Holy Order of the Little Sisters of Our Mother of Perpetual Faith. The uplifting music is by Alan Menken, the book by Cheri Steinkellner and Bill Steinkellner and lyrics are by Glenn Slater. In this production the musical director is Geoff Burnhill with his impressive twelve piece band. The sound design is by Rob Ketteridge and the lighting is by Tom Mowat.

This bright and joyous production by Nottingham based Spotlight Theatre Company is a real winner in the directorial stakes (director Matt Wesson) and its exuberant delivery is mainly down to the young lead – Grace Hodgett-Young – playing Deloris Van Cartier with all her heart and soul. Hodgett-Young as Deloris is funny, sassy, and has a beautiful and powerful soul filled voice. She is very believable in all of Deloris’ emotional states and her part is delivered with great confidence and skill. We may be witnessing a star of now and of the future here. Hers is not an amateur performance by any means and she certainly tugs the heartstrings with her winning execution. She makes all her songs her own and even in the shared numbers with the nuns there comes across an on stage generosity of spirit from Hodgett-Young.

Countering Deloris is the Mother Superior played with great self-assurance and vocal dexterity by Lizzie Fenner hot from the hit Lakeside based show Chicago. Her roles as murderess Roxie Hart and Mother Superior couldn’t be further apart and yet, in playing they are only a week away from each other! Her résumé shows her to be a very versatile actress. Another one to watch.

The company of nuns are such fun to watch especially in their group escapades and songs. They deliver ‘Take Me To Heaven!’, ‘Sunday Morning Fever’ and ‘Spread The Love Around’ as if their lives depend upon it and all with smiles and gestures of infectious joy. Choreographer Sophie Petruccio Hall has done a fine job with this company of talented ladies. The later quick costume changes are very deftly done and add to the visual impact and fun of the piece.

We particularly love the personal growth of nun Sister Mary Robert (Holly Neil) who through Deloris, and her own self will, discovers her voice (in more ways than one) and personal empowerment. Neil’s powerful rendition of ‘The Life I Never Led’ is inspiringly good.

As Curtis’s dumb hoodlums we enjoy the humour of Liam Petruccio-Hall as Joey, Patrick McChrystal as Spanish speaking Pablo and Ray McLeod as a funky and very funny TJ. Their combined Lady In The Long Dress is a deliberate parody of the black Motown romantic male quartets that sang in the 1970s about their particular style of romancing the ladeeeees with their smooooth talk. Mike Pearson is hilarious as the unpredictable and lovable Monsignor O Hara. We love his jive moves and camp abandon.

As the programme says Sister Act is ‘ filled with powerful gospel music, outrageous dancing and a truly moving story and leaves the audience breathless. It is a sparkling tribute to the universal power of friendship and a reason to rejoice.’ If you don’t come out with a big grin on your face having wiped away a few previous tears of love, as Shakespeare said – get thee to a nunnery.

Sister Act produced by Amanda Hall is running at Nottingham Playhouse 12th – 13th July with two performances on 13th.

Photos credit: Cassie Hall


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