Sister Act

Cheri and Bill Steinkellner with additional material by Douglas Carter Beane, music Alan Menken, lyrics Glen Slater, based on the movie written by Joseph Howard
Guildford School of Acting and Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford
Yvonne Arnaud Theatre Guildford

Kelly Hampson as Mother Superior and T'Shan Williams as Doloros Credit: Steve Porter
The Nun's Choir from Sister Act Credit: Steve Porter

This is the graduation year of Guildford School of Acting and the performers are keen to show their talent and their new skills before launching themselves into the big wide world called Show Business.

There’s no lack of energy, enthusiasm and stamina in this show, all needed for the numerous very strenuous dance routines, and they give it their all from the opening number “Take me to Heaven” to the same song again at the end with about thirty musical numbers in between.

The story (by the writers of Cheers) is entertaining, exciting, funny and at times touching, with a lot of humour which is occasionally missed, or at least not given enough space. Comedy timing in a musical is not an easy task, although one elderly nun does manage to time her rather sardonic comments very nicely.

Aspiring night club singer Deloris Van Cartier inadvertently walks in to witness a killing. No matter that the perpetrator is her gangster boyfriend, now she too has to die. The police must find her a safe place to hide and what better than a convent, the last place the killers would think to look.

This is a silent order and it seems Deloris has never been silent in her whole life. She takes charge of the nun’s choir and, to the consternation of the Mother Superior, changes and popularises it to such an extent that they find themselves broadcasting from Queen of Angels Church for the whole world to hear.

Whoopi Goldberg played Deloris in the hugely successful film, and also produced the musical version which, after its success in the USA, played at the Palladium in London in 2009. She described the show as “pure unadulterated fun”, and so it is, here becoming a hilarious mixture somewhere between Saturday Night Fever and The Keystone Cops with a little of The Three Stooges for good measure.

It is a huge cast, around thirty, needing a very experienced director to control it all. Luckily Gary Lloyd, having directed Footloose here in the past, was keen to come back and ‘‘work with these incredibly talented students’’ which includes many of the production team as well as the cast, and he keeps the interest high with this fast-moving, high-octane show.

The numerous scene changes go without the slightest hitch and are achieved with incredible speed and efficiency, especially impressive being the beautiful arches of the convent dropping silently into place.

Costume design is by Carina Wells and includes some very un-nunlike habits as the nuns stop being silent and find their own personalities. They all keep their characters on track at every stage as they become a choir that the Mother Superior had never expected.

T’Shan Williams is perfectly cast as Deloris. Funky, sassy, quirky, outspoken—a total contrast to the gentle, benign Mother Superior (Kelly Hampson) she struts through the performance expecting everything to go her way—and it does.

The spirit throughout is totally infectious well deserving the cheers and whoops of appreciation.

Reviewer: Sheila Connor