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Associated Studios Performing Arts – SISTER ACT at The Vaults

 Sister Act - Photo credit Sheila Burnett
Sister Act – Photo credit Sheila Burnett

Associated Studios Performing Arts have gone for the Broadway version of Sister Act The Musical, which has enough differences in the narrative from the 2009 London Palladium production to make it an almost altogether fresh experience, particularly for those (like yours truly) that have never seen the Broadway version before. It’s a tighter show than the West End version, though one significant sticking point remains. The members of ‘Queen of Angels’ (gone is ‘The Holy Order of the Little Sisters of Our Mother of Perpetual Faith’, a title so cumbersome even Whoopi Goldberg herself struggled with it on the night I saw her play the Mother Superior at the Palladium) do a number called ‘It’s Good To Be A Nun’ – effectively replacing ‘How I Got The Calling’ on the London cast recording.

But in doing so, the nuns demonstrate that they can sing very well already, despite discordant harmonies during choir rehearsals. So, when Deloris Van Cartier (Justina Kehinde) is renamed Sister Mary Clarence by the Mother Superior (Becca Lamburn) and finds herself directing the choir herself, it’s more of the same in terms of vocal ability. But she does at least but some life and rhythm into the music performed during the Mass – ‘performed’ being the operative word.

The reason why Van Cartier is cloistered in a convent in the first place remains unchanged from the 1992 motion picture, but for anyone who really doesn’t know, her boyfriend, called Curtis Jackson (Stephen Redwood) in the musical adaptation, shoots a man in her presence, and the long and the short of it is that the church is a safe house within the police’s witness protection programme. The choreography (Sam Spencer-Lane) may be top-heavy, inasmuch as there is a lot of what BBC Television’s Strictly Come Dancing might call ‘armography’. Context is important, however, and it should be borne in mind that these nuns are, at least during waking hours, dressed in habits. One can’t expect the high kicks and legwork of 42nd Street here.

It’s Christmas, as far as the narrative is concerned, but there is little sign of festive decorations in a relatively sparse set, which suits the distinctly uncommercial surroundings of the convent but perhaps not so much some of the other settings. It’s not a big deal in the end, though, in a production that focuses partially on the costumes but mainly on the delivery of the book, music and lyrics. If the slight imperfections that go with the territory of live theatre crept in, this only served to demonstrate the ability and versatility of Associated Studios’ Class of 2019 – Justina Kehinde’s Van Cartier could still be heard very clearly from where I was sat near the rear of the auditorium despite a microphone issue during ‘Bless Our Show’ in the second half.

I rather liked the introductions that went around when Van Cartier first met the nuns – among their number were, apparently, Sister Mary Poppins and Sister Mary Celeste. (‘Sister Mary Berry’ would have been the icing on the cake, so to speak.) The large ensemble numbers were, as ever, a pleasure to listen to. Mary Clarence’s enthusiasm for radical departures from traditional church music works, even here in London, where the largest churches, with four-figure congregations, are largely happy and clappy rather than grim and prim.

It’s the solo numbers, however, that were most impressive in this production – Sister Mary Robert (Vanessa M. Owen) belts out ‘The Life I Never Led’ in a way that the London cast recording simply doesn’t, Sgt Eddie Souther (Daniel N’Guessan-Lopez) shines bright in ‘I Could Be That Guy’, and Becca Lamburn’s Mother Superior gets her own number in the second half, ‘Haven’t Got A Prayer’, which I hadn’t heard before. The joy of Sister Act was a godsend (sorry) during the recession when it came to London a decade ago, and it’s a godsend now with the world being what it is. Overall, this is a slick and well-paced production with a palpable feel-good factor. Rejoice!

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

The students at Associated Studios Performing Arts Academy are pleased to present the smash hit, Sister Act. Sister Act is the feel-amazing musical comedy, based on the hit 1992 film that has audiences jumping to their feet! Featuring original music by Tony and 8-time Oscar winner Alan Menken (Newsies, Beauty And The Beast, Little Shop Of Horrors), this uplifting musical was nominated for 5 Tony Awards including Best Musical.

When disco diva Deloris Van Cartier witnesses a murder, she is put in protective custody in one place the cops are sure she won’t be found: a convent! Disguised as a nun, she finds herself at odds with both the rigid lifestyle and uptight Mother Superior. Using her unique disco moves and singing talent to inspire the choir, Deloris breathes new life into the church and community but in doing so, blows her cover. Soon, the gang is giving chase only to find them up against Deloris and the power of her newly found sisterhood.

CREATIVE TEAM
Director – Cameron Menzies
Musical Director – Greg Arrowsmith
Choreographer – Sam Spencer-Lane
Produced by Leontine Hass & Associated Studios

PERFORMANCES
The Vaults Theatre
Launcelot Street
SE1 7AD
6th – 8th June 2019
https://www.thevaults.london/

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