REVIEW: Sister Act (The Palace Theatre, Manchester)

Sister Act at The Palace Theatre, Manchester
Sister Act at The Palace Theatre, Manchester
guest reviewer: Ciaran WArd
upstaged rating: 

Craig Revel Horwood’s adaptation of Sister Act remains faithful to the previous Broadway and West End productions of the show. The musical, taken away from the varying locations of Las Vegas and San Francisco in the 1992 film, is instead set solely in Philadelphia, USA – heightening the danger and the limitations that the play’s protagonist, Deloris Van Cartier (portrayed by Alexandra Burke, winner of The X Factor in 2008) feels in her every moment at the convent where she must remain undercover, posing as a nun.

 The transition from dialogue and stage action, to the scheduled musical numbers, is entirely seamless throughout. Alan Menken’s music, accompanied by Glenn Slater’s lyrics, are interspersed aptly, along with Horwood’s additional choreography that is executed effortlessly from the play’s ensemble cast. What defies expectations here, is the cast’s subsequent ability to concurrently hold and play string, woodwind and brass instruments; these provide the instrumental justification for the spontaneous singing that can sometimes feel forced and unrealistic in other musicals.

Throughout the narrative, the pacing is maintained at a rate that engages the audience’s attention instantly – a feat achieved through the play’s exposition beginning in medias res, with Deloris’ nightclub performance quickly developing into her witness of a brutal gang murder. Frequent alterations in set dressing contribute to this effect, with the play’s visual aesthetic comprising a gothic church that is visible in the background of every scene: a symbol of the sanctuary that the convent offers Van Cartier.

 Stand out moments, such as Burke’s magnifying vocals and ad-libs, are not limited to the show’s lead. Joe Vetch’s performance as Eddie often ascends into a virtuoso falsetto, whilst Liz Kitchen’s Sister Mary Lazarus at one point descends into a Will Smith rap that is both anachronistic of the play’s setting in 1978, and of her perceived status as a pious Catholic nun. Consequently, Lighting Designer Richard G Jones’ spotlights often drift from the show’s acclaimed star onto other members of the cast who contribute sparks of creativity, individual to this version of the musical.

 Considering this is the second time the Palace Theatre has played host to the Curve, Leicester production of Sister Act, none of the theatricality of the extended year-long tour has diminished. Indeed, Burke’s performance retains its spark and vigour throughout, resulting in a play worthy of a premature standing ovation during the encore, and its title as a ‘Divine Musical Comedy’.

-Ciaran Ward

Sister Act runs at Manchester’s Palace Theatre until Saturday 29th July 2017.

March Must-Sees

Our pick of the best Manchester Theatre this month

Rather like the Mancunian weather at the moment – we’ve got an eclectic month of theatre planned for March. It’s a lucky dip of cultural goodness – so feast your eyes on our top picks for this month.

Blood Brothers (Palace Theatre)

Written by Willy Russell, Blood Brothers tells the moving story of twins who were separated at birth, grow up on opposite sides of the tracks, only to meet again with fateful consequences.

This smash hit musical sees multi-platinum selling artist and my favourite crooner, Marti Pellow take the role of narrator and the critically acclaimed Maureen Nolan play Mrs Johnstone.

© 2015 Keith Pattison
© 2015 Keith Pattison

Featuring a superb musical score, which includes Bright New Day, Marilyn Monroe and the emotionally charged Tell Me It’s Not True, the show has been affectionately named the Standing Ovation Musical.

Blood Brothers runs at the Palace Theatre, Manchester from 2nd March 2015 until 14th March 2015.

Sham Bodie (Kraak, Northern Quarter) – 5th March

Sham Bodie is a monthly night held at Kraak in the NQ. Essentially, it’s like lots of the best nights out rolled into one package. There is stand-up and live comedy sketches, from new and established acts, as well as live music from some really good bands. This month features BBC New Comedy Award finalist Tom Little, Fab Radio’s Nina Gilligan and Michael J Dolan. There is also music from garage blues two-piece, Dirty Heels. Sham Bodie only costs a fiver! And this month, in honour of St Patrick’s Day on the 17th, they have teamed up with their pals at Jameson to bring you free whisky. Yes, I said FREE WHISKY…go on, go on, go on….

SICK! Festivallogo

Launched in 2013, SICK! Festival is the first of its kind in the UK, dedicated to revealing, debating and exploring the physical, mental and social challenges of life and death.

SICK! isn’t for the faint hearted or those who fancy a bit of frivolous escapism- the festival explores a variety of issues such as rape and mental health, amongst others, through a variety of different mediums – art installations, film and performance. The festival runs through most of March and events are taking place all over Manchester and Salford. Please take a look at the program of events.

Anna Karenina (The Royal Exchange)

Ony Uhiara, takes the title role of Anna, a dutiful wife and a loving mother. When she meets Count Vronsky it turns her world on its head, putting everything that she has ever known at risk. In a parallel story, Levin is trying to live justly in a social system built on injustice. Spurned on by the woman he loves, he turns his back on wealthy society and heads for his country estate, determined to refashion it into a vision of a fairer world. Tolstoy’s epic masterpiece, set against the backdrop of imperial Russia, explores what happens when two very different couples grapple with the strongest emotion we humans are capable of feeling – love.

Olivier-nominated director Ellen McDougall makes her Royal Exchange debut in this contemporary version of the Leo Tolstoy classic.

Anna Karenina runs at the Royal Exchange Theatre from 19th March 2015 until 2nd May 2015.

 BRINK (The Studio, The Royal Exchange)

This promises to be an interesting world premiere by The Royal Exchange Theatre Young Company and written by Jackie Kay (one of my favourite writers – love Red Dust Road).

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The production explores the idea of being on the ‘brink’ – what brings you to the brink? When you are close to the edge – do you push forward or do you step back? Everything is possible when you are so close to the brink.

BRINK is running in The Studio at the Royal Exchange from 26th March 2015 until 29th March 2015.

Maxine Peake as Hamlet (The Cornerhouse)

For those of you, like myself, who didn’t manage to catch Maxine Peake as Hamlet the first time round at The Royal Exchange – this film screening of Hamlet at Manchester’s Cornerhouse may be for you.

Hamlet is possibly Shakespeare’s most iconic work, exploring ideas of love and betrayal and themes of murder and madness.

This groundbreaking version of Hamlet, directed by Sarah Frankcom, was the Royal Exchange’s fastest selling show of the last decade. It had a complete sell out run in the theatre and Maxine Peake’s Hamlet was described as  “delicately ferocious” by The Guardian and “a milestone Hamlet” by the Manchester Evening News.

I’m definitely going to catch it this time round.

Cornerhouse have 3 showings of this unmissable performance.

Mon 23 March: Doors 19:15, Starts at 19:30
Sun 29 March: Doors 14:45, Starts at 15:00
Thu 2 April: Doors 19:15, Starts at 19:30

Birmingham Royal Ballet – Coppélia (The Lowry)

And finally, something for the little ones – Birmingham Royal Ballet are visiting The Lowry with Coppélia, it runs from March 4th until March 7th.

But more importantly, the Birmingham Royal Ballet are also presenting First Steps – A Child’s Coppélia on Friday 6th March at 1pm.

In this hour long version, the delightful story has been specially adapted to suit children aged from 3-7.

The Lowry are also holding a Family Fun Day on Saturday 7th March from 12-1:30pm, which is free to all matinee ticket holders.

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