25th November 2016
Oxted Operatic Society
The Barn Theatre Oxted
Type of Production
Author: Jon Fox
To appreciate this energetic, all action show you need not be Catholic or even a lover of musical theatre. You merely need the ability to breathe, to see and hear and to have been in Oxted Barn Theatre this week.
The dictionary definition of energy does not mention "Sister Act"; how remiss! Pace, glamour, glitz, high comedy, pathos, menace, raw emotion, wonderful singing, a great band, stunning choreography, fine costumes were all there. Even though the tunes are certainly not as memorable as those of Porter, the Gershwins, Rodgers and Hammerstein and Sondheim, this is a great show.
This oft produced Menken / Slater show - the fourth "Sister Act" I have reviewed this year - when done like this leaves one exhilarated and glad to be a reviewer. All human emotion was encapsulated in this fast moving production.
The mighty role of Deloris Van Cartier (AKA Sister Mary Clarence) is at the heart of the whole show. She must, simply must, be radioactive in personality and in talent. Melissa Cox, sparkling diamond-like, certainly fitted the bill, and how! And boy, could she sing!
Deloris' adversary for much of the show was the redoubtable Mother Superior played with a boiling interior only in part kept hidden by a religious certainty and practised calm. In the experienced hands of Morven Rae O.O.S. had the complete antidote to Deloris in all save talent. Her beautiful singing voice rang out, thrillingly! Morven was quite superb in this pivotal role.
Michael Leopold as Curtis Jackson the club owning gangster "boyfriend" intent on murdering Deloris, played him with wonderful heavy menace perfectly pitched. He and his gang's murderous pursuit of Deloris provided the evil which contrasted so well with the simple goodness of the nuns. His charismatic, but incompetent gang comprised two very young adults in William Huke and Sean Waring as TJ and Joey respectively and a slightly older Stephen Fanis as the Spanish speaking Pablo. All three displayed their diverse personalities with comic bravado and splendid timing. - their "Lady in the Long Back dress" was a hoot and milked for all it was worth. We even had some Spanish falsetto singing from "Love God" Pablo. Great comedy boys!
Darren Flick as "Sweaty" Eddie Souther was the good cop with the heart of gold, a puppy dog type showing marvellous pathos. I really liked his portrayal and thoroughly enjoyed his "I could be that Guy" which involved not one, but two costume changes onstage!
Mike Tomlin as Monsignor O'Hara gave an authoritative, warm hearted performance and was entirely authentic.
And so to the magical nuns, all with the prefix "Sister Mary" (S.M. from now on). Leila Suleyman, the nervy S. M. Robert was truly outstanding in this peach of a role, her early hesitancy building to a fiery and magnificent finale. Leila possesses a special singing voice and certainly knows how to use emotion in song. Katy Reid was the fun loving, larger than life, S. M. Patrick, providing more than her fair share of the nuns' zest and vibrancy and was another who stood out. Nicki Lewis was the grumpy, "put out" choir mistress S. M. Lazarus, forced to hand over to S.M. Clarence but eventually won over by Deloris' towering personality. Another hit performance and with added rap to boot.
I liked the interesting variety of the names of the remaining "nuns' chorus" and their dynamic portrayals of the Sisters:-
Mary Martin-of-Tours Stephanie Hornett-Johnson
Mary Theresa Emma Denny
Mary Antoinette Elke Starr
Mary Celeste Carol Moss
Mary Francis Philippa Lucas
Mary Hava Rose Ali Morris
Mary Leontius Penny Parker
Mary Madonna-on-Tour Liz Stott
Mary Rose Hannah Millsted-Bowdery
Mary Ruth Katie Wilson
Mary Tia Maria Jenny Roe
The two Postulants Mary Anastasia and Mary Regulus were also well played by Sarah Coldwell and Fern Simmons.
The nuns' "cat's chorus" singing transformed by Deloris into a special choir was comic, moving and impressive. The director's use of the auditorium for exits and entrances drew the audience into the action and this now common action in theatre usually works well. The nuns and their individuality really made this show and I simply loved them!
Hannah Millsted-Bowdery and Penny Parker were Deloris's backing singers Michelle and Tina respectively, dancing and singing with energy and passion. The "reveal", when S M Mary Clarence owned up to actually being Deloris, a night club singer, was incredibly powerful.
Tom Gardner was Ernie, also a cab driver and flitted through the show playing various small roles effectively. Peter Calver was the wonderful Drag Queen , enjoying the cameo role almost as much as we who watched him. The Newscaster was played by Stephen Cox.
Frankly it is difficult for me to highlight special musical moments in this show, because the singing was so enjoyable. However, for sheer beauty of singing tone and emotional power these three stood apart - "Here within these Walls" and "I haven't got a Prayer" (Mother Superior) and "The Life I Never Led" (Deloris, Sister Mary Robert). All the ensemble singing was special; it would have revived a corpse, so lively was it!
Musical Director Steven Geraghty (also on keyboard) deserves enormous credit for his sterling work with this company. His seven piece band really did him proud, considering that it was in a very small area offstage right, hidden from the audience's view.
Choreographer Catherine Blundell and her vibrantly danced routines made a huge contribution to this special show; "Take Me to Heaven", "Spread The Love Around" and "Raise Your voice" (Finale) would have melted an iceberg with their heat and sizzle.
Wardrobe was by Karen Ingham and Teresa Reed and the Dresser was Rachael Kitchen. Stephanie Hornett-Johnson was responsible for hair and make-up (besides being on stage as S.M. Martin-of-Tours). O.O.S. owe all these painstaking ladies a huge thank you - which I am certain they will have already received, many times over - the Nun's costumes and those of Deloris were particularly splendid.
I must praise the set, designed by the Director Sarah Morrison, which was inspirationally used and changed so splendidly by the in-house crew, be it Nightclub, Police Station, Confessional, Curtis' office, Mary Clarence's room, Mother Superior's office or Eddie's apartment, all scenes ran seamlessly. Sarah brought out Deloris' extrovert yet vulnerable personality and character, contrasting that in sculptured style with the serenity and grace of Mother Superior, the low life cunning of Curtis and the simple goodness of S.M. Robert. I believe that she will long be proud -and rightly so- of her inspirational direction of this vibrant show. Clever use of lighting (Carolyn Rowley) and sound (John Chinnock) also fitted seamlessly into the show and added much to the overall effect.
In my estimation all that prevents this most enjoyable show - though not the production - being ranked among the truly great musicals (eg South Pacific, Fiddler on the Roof, Oklahoma, Kiss me Kate, West Side Story and that ilk) is the absence of superb, even immortal melodies. Plot, characterisation, dance opportunity, energy and so much else, rank alongside the very best. As for this production and performance it was top marks all round.