Although Sister Act is little more than undemanding candyfloss, Sara Brodie’s production for Showbiz Christchurch highlights its humanity and pathos so effectively that its gentle humour and uplifting vitality made it a night of truly delectable entertainment.
What could easily have been the all-too-usual big brash Broadway approach, emerged as entertaining, engaging and even, at times, genuinely moving. The show is superbly cast, from Monique Clementson’s impressively portrayed Deloris Van Cartier, to the consistently believable and focused performances of the entire ensemble.
Clementson’s transition from brazen gangster’s moll, to sisterly affinity with her cloistered companions, is effective and convincing, while never compromising the character’s essential audacity. And her accomplished singing demonstrates strength throughout a considerable range without ever becoming overbearing.
The chorus of nuns is, perhaps, the real star of Sister Act and Sara Brodie has encouraged each individual to develop a distinct personality. Much of the entertainment value of the show comes from the incongruity of nuns singing and dancing in disco style, and their two ensemble numbers which conclude Act 1 brought the curtain down to a well-deserved, vociferous audience response.
The added incongruity of gangsters singing and dancing contributes further comedy, which made the outstandingly performed Lady in the Long Black Dress (Chris Symon, Blair McHugh, Rychalo Thompson) a real highlight.
All the solo contributions were excellent with no weak link, but I must mention Nick Purdie’s (Curtis Jackson) singing of When I Find my Baby, which was the point at which the show (and consequently the audience) really came to life – imaginatively staged, and impressively sung. For me, this was also the musical highlight of Alan Menken’s score which, while consistently persuasive, otherwise lacks any other really memorable songs.
The sound was not always ideally balanced from my seat, and the instrumental accompaniment sounded rather synthetic at times, but, although Menken’s original songs certainly make the show an effective stage musical (unlike some Broadway adaptations of Hollywood), anyone familiar with the original 1992 movie might miss the great, regenerated popular standards that it featured.
Set (John Harding), costumes (Lesley Burkes Harding) and lighting (Grant Robertson) played a significant part in the show’s effectiveness with some creative visual effects that completed a highly enjoyable night of musical theatre.