Sister Act ‘Sparkles With Infectious Energy’

Theatreview reviewer Grant Hindin Miller

Deloris Van Cartier, a black Philadelphian night-club singer, auditions for Curtis, her gangster boyfriend – she wants to sing in his club. After the audition she happens upon Curtis shooting and killing a ‘squealer’. Terrified, she runs to the Police (an old high-school friend) to report the murder. Agreeing to take the stand against Curtis, the Police ‘hide’ her (‘incognegro’) in a Convent: the one place Curtis and his thugs won’t look.

This is a ‘fish out of water’ tale – a streetwise Filly girl in a Convent so moribund it’s about to be sold to developers. Deloris is forced into a habit and has to drop a few ‘habits’ along the way. Adjustments need to be made by both sides but, given our newcomer’s pushy personality, mostly by the nuns and their stuffy Mother Superior. Because of her musical prowess Deloris, renamed Sister Mary Clarence, helps out with the choir. With her injection of new swing and ‘boogie’, which the nuns imbibe like fish gasping for oxygen, the church attracts new patrons. Monsignor O’Hara knows a good thing when he sees one and invites the Pope to their new revivalist home.

Gangster Curtis and his boys, however, are always in the background and the inevitable showdown looms.

This is slick, colourful, polished entertainment with evocative backdrops, brilliant live musical accompaniments, attractive choreography, dazzling costumes, and topped off by committed performances from a gigantic cast. With Sister Act, Showbiz Christchurch triumphs once more with a full razzamatazz theatrical extravaganza.

You hope for a show where everyone is doing their best and here it is. Not surprisingly every member of the cast deserves the thunderous applause which, on opening night, extends to a number of curtain-calls.

Monique Clementson, as Deloris, owns the demanding lead role. How she sleeps after the adrenaline of that performance, or how she wakes, doesn’t bear thinking. Once she hits that stage she leaves nothing behind – she brings swagger, comedy, high energy, a commanding stage presence, powerful singing, a changing emotional barometer, and she wins us all over.

There are so many stand-out performers: Sarah Greenwood Buchanan as Mother Superior, Hannah Falconer as Sister Mary Robert, Kate Taylor as Sister Mary Patrick, Ian Lester as Monsignor O’Hara, and Matt McMenamin as Eddie, the sympathetic policeman. And all these actors can really sing! The audience adores the song by the three heavies: Blair McHugh, Rychalo Thompson, and Chris Symon. On all fronts the singing is powerful, confident, and the choir rousing – at times even ‘heavenly’.

Matthew Everingham has done a perfect job as Musical Director. The band is tight, the accompaniments hit the right spot and the players sound like they love what they’re doing which is exactly what you want. The music, with its delicious echoes of cheesy disco and Pink Panther themes, is absolutely fabulous. I note that Matthew tutors at NASDA and that Monique Clementson and Matt McMenamin graduated from NASDA (as did and many others on stage). NASDA is creating a rich theatrical provenance for Christchurch and Showbiz Christchurch is to be applauded for recognising and showcasing that talent.

With a few deep bellied chuckles, the story pokes fun at fusty religious tradition – even the Pope makes a gleaming-white rockstar appearance. It may be a man’s world but you can be assured that sisterhood will win in the end.

Sister Act sparkles with infectious energy and body rocking music. The storyline will warm the cockles of your heart and the staging and artistic commitment of every player is a better tonic than vitamins. This is a glam show that shouldn’t be missed. A great night of musical theatre.

Sister Act is ‘fabulous, baby’

By Backstage Reviewer Kate Divett

“Clementson offers sass, vulnerability and humour to create a character the audience connects with. Her vocals are rich, soulful and powerful.”

Other performances are solid and in safe hands. Sarah Greenwood Buchanan is outstanding as the Mother Superior, her song Haven’t Got A Prayer is marvellous. Nick Purdie (Curtis Jackson) offers his smooth voice to the truly vile gangster role.  Chris Symon (TJ) holds back his stunning voice to provide terrific comic relief, and is joined by fellow ‘thugs’ Blair McHugh (Joey) and Rychalo Thompson (Pablo) to woo the nuns in Lady in the Long Black Dress. Matthew McMenamin (Eddie Souther) is well cast as the nice guy who gets the girl in the end. Ian Lester (Monsignor O’Hara) is at his best when in full-blown preacher-mode.

“And then there are the nuns. A terrific gathering of incredibly talented women.”

“…. the sum of this production’s various parts is entertaining and leaves you with a sense that you’ve just been through a disco workout. Sister Act is indeed a fun way to end the Showbiz Christchurch season.”