Sister Act

Date 14th April 2019
Society Jewish Theatre Group Manchester
Venue Middleton Arena
Type of Production Musical
Director Robert Margolis
Musical Director David Wilson
Choreographer Martin Robinson

Report

Author: Kevin Proctor

Combine the musical genius of Alan Menken (Little Shop Of Horrors, Disney’s Beauty and The Beast) with one of the most comical films of the 1990’s and you’ve got an exceptional recipe for a tour de force piece of musical theatre! Halleluiah!   

This show requires its cast to deliver a classical choral sound as well as imitating the disco girl groups of the 1960’s and 70’s. It’s generally underestimated how difficult this score is to grasp and sing, there were moments when the intricacies of the harmonies and clever balance of chamber choir and pop quirks got the better of the cast. However, act II offered more secure vocals from the nun’s chorus, particularly during ‘Bless Our Show’ which was softer and more tranquil exposing the stronger attribute to this singing ensemble.   

Martin Robinson’s choreography had all the fun qualities required and his chorus did him credit who were evidently committed to the steps, performing them with energy and attack.

Technical support gave its all to the overall presentation which is wholly commendable, perhaps giving a little too much as the lighting design was riddled with gimmicks which - although attractive in one respect - weren’t always necessary accompaniments to the moment. Sound took its time to settle as the microphones weren’t ideally balanced for most of act I with some tinny principal mic’s which stung our ears a tad when belting out some of the bigger notes but once the ideal settings were eventually established we got a decent sound coming through.    

Debbie Hilton injected pizazz into the production as Deloris Van Cartier, her stamina never faded and she smacked us with attitude and heart at every available opportunity grasping and exposing the humour in the role with expert ability. The biggest challenge, as I’m sure is the case for anyone who tackles this role, came with the vocal demands. Deloris is a mammoth sing for the best vocalists out there, it’s fair to say that some of the numbers suited Debbie’s vocal characteristics more than others, excelling with the more character driven musical theatre style numbers over the pop inspirations though - as a whole performance collectively - this was definitely a tremendous endeavour above all else.      

Director, Robert Margolis had favourably focused on the pace ensuring scene changes were swift to keep the momentum carrying through each of the scenes. His cast admirably depicted the lib to execute the desired mood whilst not over savouring each moment to keep it moving, conquering a common trap.  

David Wilson’s orchestra offered a terrific sound in parts though didn’t quite emulate the soul and disco qualities of the score as pleasingly as the more traditional elements, David needed to spend more time with his singers to distinguish the details of the score and to evenly balance out some of the harmonies.

Deborah Finley gave us a tremendous Mother Superior who was equally at home delivering through song or lib, the connections between the two were seamless. A captivating performance through the dry humour, pathos and anguish, a faultless act demonstrating pure quality.  

Alex Waxman established a knock out performance as Sister Mary Robert, it’s highly exciting to witness people developing as performers with each visit I make to societies and Alex is a prime example of this, she’s evidently passionate towards her craft and working hard towards developing her skills have no doubt been of great value to her achievement here, a serious contender proving she’s one to watch!

Michael Bowers certainly looked the part and offered virtuous characteristics to portray Eddie though it was his vocal knack which proved to be the shortcoming here, more time with the MD would have been of some help to him. At times Howard Yaffe appeared to be a rabbit in the headlights as Curtis, Howard is a reliable and committed cast member which any show would be virtuous to have him participate though I think he’s found his breaking point playing a greasy gangster, it was too preposterous to comprehend. I couldn’t help but feel swopping him with Monsignor O’Hara would’ve demonstrated more virtuous and believable casting. Jeremy Kay as Monsignor O’Hara did all that was expected, including an eye popping stint as a transvestite, though it radiated how he’d be more suited to Curtis just as Howard would’ve been more suited to the Monsignor. Saying this, I’m all for stepping out of your comfort zone and tackling new challenges to break away from predictability but in this instance the predictable option would have delivered a more credible end result.   

The added novelty of an all Jewish society donning traditional Catholic garb and playing devout Catholic’s exposed some humour that wouldn’t usually be there which was entirely appreciated and well presented. It wasn’t until thinking about it that this musical actually has a considerable amount of Jewish roots in its creatives which probably meant that some of these ‘in jokes’ that were uncovered during this enactment, appearing as a fresh take on the show, were not uncovering anything new but actually pinpointing what’s always been there and not entirely appreciated previously. Interesting!

It’s often worthwhile for me to remind readers of reviews that every production comes with its gripes be it professional or amateur. Unfortunately, it’s my duty to dissect and lay out the warts an’ all no matter how minor they may seem to be which is the burden of elimination and the obligation of adjudication. Faults can be found in anything if examined hard enough, regrettably (as an adjudicator) they’re for me to dig out and weigh up. But overall, regardless of the occasional bleat pinpointed above, this production certainly had its merits! A palpable feel-good factor radiated. Rejoice!