Disco-dancing nuns ‘will leave you dazed’

Star Theatre/Arts reviewer Georgia O’Connor-Harding

Diva fever has struck town. And what is there not to worship about disco-dancing nuns crossed with soulful toe-tapping beats bound to take you to cloud nine?

Go-go boots, disco balls and shimmering lights are in the house, as Showbiz Christchurch stages its groovy new production of Sister Act.

This show is a visual spectacle, and when those nuns get down to boogie in their sparkling get-ups under gleaming stages lights, it will leave you dazed – seriously, this show is bright.

But there is a heart-warming substance behind all those sparkles which stars a vocally powerful cast led by the bold Monique Clementson.

As many will know already, the story is set around a hopeful diva who finds herself in a convent as part of a witness protection programme after she accidentally sees her dangerous boyfriend kill a member of his crew.

Yet this tale will have you beaming from ear-to-ear as one line wonder, Deloris Van Cartier (Clementson), transforms a tone-deaf choir of nuns into a heavenly-sounding ensemble.

The nuns made the show, especially in large ensemble numbers Take Me to Heaven and Raise Your Voice.

The fact their dancing was ever so slightly out of sync at times was actually what made them compelling to watch. To me it emphasised real people learning the joys of dance and breaking away from everyday, conventional life.

A highlight is when Nickie Wellbourn, as the no-nonsense Sister Mary Lazarus, raps – no surprise that received a big applause.

The choreography was clever, especially the dynamic performance of When I Find My Baby, featuring gangsters and edgy dancers, Ella Wilson and Jenna Morris-Williamson, as hookers.

Clementson did a marvellous job of the Philadelphia accent, which was no easy feat.

While it sounded as though the microphones needed to be turned up slightly in the opening number, Clementson is a strong performer and her charismatic stage presence made it easy to see why she was chosen for the sassy role of Deloris.

You cannot forget the slick-moving sets, which add to the visual finesse of the show.

Glitzy night clubs transforming into beautiful neo-Gothic style churches portray the theme of the show beautifully and deserved to be applauded.

There is nothing like watching an unlikely friendship between a diva and a group of nuns blossom, and it was beautiful to watch the nuns put their lives on the line to save Deloris from murder.

But humour and happy tunes are the bread and butter of this upbeat show and will have audiences bopping all the way home.

Sister Act entertaining and engaging

Stuff Review by Tony Ryan 10:57, 11 September 2017

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.

Sister Act ‘near close to perfect’

by Tearaway Reviewer Aaron Dahmen

Sassy, stunning and beautiful – the final production of the 2017 Showbiz Christchurch season was near close to perfect.

Opening to an energetic crowd at the Isaac Theatre Royal, Sister Act – A Divine Musical Comedy had the audience in stitches from the off.

The story follows exploits of a 1970’s wannabe disco diva as she escapes from her gangster boyfriend. Having witnessed him commit a murder, she is put in protective custody in the one place the cops are sure she won’t be found: a convent.

Directed and choreographed by New Zealand Arts Foundation Laureate Sara Brodie, with a gospel and disco soundtrack written by eight-time Oscar winner Alan Menken, this is a performance for the ages.

Using her unique disco moves and singing talent, diva Deloris inspires the nuns to create a contemporary choir, becoming an immediate hit with the community. Word of their success travels fast though and reaches her ex-boyfriend Curtis, who arrives with his gang to settle the score.

With pitch perfect renditions of the greatest Broadway hits, each song was met with an equally powerful audience response. Simply put: they loved it.

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.”


Break out the bell bottoms!

The late seventies were a time of iconic energy that refused to be contained – John Travolta brought a new level of style to the white flared disco suit while Diana Ross’ retro wardrobe choices set the tone for the era.

The seventies represented a vibrant era of psychedelic colours, bellbottoms, Donna Summer hairstyles, liberation and love; culture at its boldest and brightest.

As an inspiring tribute to these iconic times, Showbiz Christchurch is hosting a ‘70s Night on 22 September to coincide with its highly anticipated season of Sister Act, which is set in 1977.

The show tells the story of wannabe disco diva Deloris Van Cartier, on the run from her gangster boyfriend. She hides in the one place the cops are sure she won’t be a found: a convent!

Disguised as a nun, she finds herself at odds with both the rigid lifestyle and the uptight Mother Superior. Using her unique disco talents, Deloris inspires the nuns to create a contemporary choir, and they become the hit of the community.

Word of their success reaches her ex-boyfriend, who tracks her down to the convent. A battle ensues between the mob and Deloris’s newly found sisterhood of feisty nuns.

Filled with powerful gospel music, outrageous dancing and a truly moving story, Sister Act is a sparkling tribute to the universal power of friendship.

Seventies lovers are invited to dress up in their favourite outfit that pays homage to this era and come along to see the show (standard ticket prices apply). The night will be themed with a ‘70s disco vibe, spot prizes and a grand prize of luxury Christchurch hotel accommodation and 2 x Premium Tickets for the first Showbiz show of 2018 for the best costume are up for grabs.

Setting the Scene for Sister Act

The dead man, Ernie Williams

Man Found Dead in South Philly Alleyway Linked to Mob

Homicide detectives are investigating the death of a man whose body was found in a dumpster in a South Philly alleyway on Christmas Eve after an autopsy revealed that he had been shot, police reported.

Police have identified the man as Ernie Williams of South Philadelphia. Sources familiar with the investigation said Williams is believed to be a mob gangster who had a prior arrest record. He is a known associate of Curtis Jackson, a local nightclub owner with family links to Carl “Better Days” Jackson of the Northeast Philly Irish Mob. The body was discovered in a commercial alleyway in the early hours of Christmas morning behind the club owned by Curtis Jackson.

Nightclub owner Curtis Jackson

Officers from the Philadelphia Police Department responded to the scene and the body was transported to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, which declared the death a homicide.

Alleyway in South Philly near where body was found

Local Nightclub Singer Missing

Friends of singer Deloris Van Cartier are growing increasingly concerned about her safety after she went missing from the central city nightclub where she was auditioning on Christmas Eve.

Missing nightclub singer Deloris Van Cartier

Van Cartier, whose real name is Doris Carter and formerly worked for McDonald’s, was hoping the audition would launch her professional singing career.

Backup singers, Michelle and Tina say she was last seen wearing a distinctive blue fur coat. No sign of her has been reported since and she has not made contact with family or friends.

Police are refusing to comment.

Queen of Angels Church threatened with closure

Queen of Angels Cathedral and Convent may be shut down completely as a chronic lack of priests and falling attendance sees Masses canceled.

Sources close to the parish believe that an offer to purchase the buildings has been received by the Archdiocese from two antique dealers.

Monsignor O’Hara

The situation at Queen of Angels is so critical that weekday services have been canceled and Sunday Masses are only held every second weekend.

Aging priests, a lack of young seminarians and a plummeting number of practicing Catholics have left the Church facing an unprecedented crisis.

The institution in other districts have dealt with the same turmoil by shutting churches and clustering whole parishes.

And it may not be long before more churches in Philadelphia are forced to do the same, it’s been warned.

Monsignor O’Hara told the Philadelphia Bulletin: “Weekday Masses are disappearing because if there’s only one priest who has to travel around three or four churches, plus do funerals, weddings, visiting the sick and administration, it’s impossible.

Queen of Angels Mother Superior could not be reached for comment but is said to be deeply unimpressed.

“Some parishes have more than one church but only one priest, so there might be Mass every second day in each church.

“But older people are now finding their local church doesn’t have Mass and they can’t get to another church so that’s a major issue.”

Priests across Philadelphia have been asked to count Mass-goers over the next three weeks, an audit which could lead to the cancellation of Masses which have poor attendance.

Expanding Antiques Business Behind Church Offer

The two antique dealers behind the offer to purchase Queen of Angels Church have been identified as Mr. Swanson and Mr. Lardner of Bachelor’s Antiques. They have a showroom in the city and specialize in buying and selling antique, vintage and mid-century design pieces, including furniture, ornaments and jewelry.

Antiques are in Lardner’s blood; his family had antique shops in Bella Vista and his first purchase was a Georgian tea caddy when he was seven.

“We outgrew our city premises and rented a shop in South Philly for a month this time last year, and that was really successful” said Lardner “This building was always one we liked and we would be lucky to secure it.”

Nuns take to the stage in Broadway hit musical comedy

Monique Clementson plays wannabe nightclub singer Deloris Van Cartier

The final production in the Showbiz Christchurch 2017 season opens at the Isaac Theatre Royal on 8 September. Sister Act – A Divine Musical Comedy follows the exploits of 1970s wannabe disco diva Deloris Van Cartier as she escapes from her gangster boyfriend. Having witnessed him commit a murder, she is put in protective custody in the one place the cops are sure she won’t be a found: a convent!

Disguised as a nun, Deloris finds herself at odds with the rigid lifestyle of the nuns and their uptight Mother Superior. Using her unique disco moves and singing talent, she inspires the nuns to create a more contemporary choir and they become the hit of the community. Word of their success reaches her ex-boyfriend Curtis, who arrives with his gang to settle the score with Deloris.

Sister Act is directed and choreographed by New Zealand Arts Foundation Laureate Sara Brodie who has an extensive list of directorial credits to her name including over eighty productions for theatre companies throughout Australasia. Her last Showbiz Christchurch production was directing Monty Python’s Spamalot in 2015.

Musician and composer Matthew Everingham is directing the score of gospel and disco music written by Tony and eight-time Oscar winner, Alan Menken (Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, Little Shop of Horrors).

Clementson in Invercargill Musical Theatre’s production of Sister Act

Monique Clementson will play Deloris, the same role she recently performed in Invercargill Musical Theatre’s production of Sister Act. Clementson is a big ‘70s fan who grew up listening to disco hits and counts Sister Act I and II as her favourite movies. Growing up in Nelson, she and her older brother would compete against each other to sing the high notes in the gospel hits that featured in the Sister Act movies. It wasn’t until Clementson attended the National Academy of Singing and Dramatic Art (NASDA) in Christchurch in 2014 that she realised her favourite movies had been turned into a Broadway musical featuring all new original music.

Nick Purdie will perform the role of the gangster boyfriend, Curtis Jackson. Purdie played alongside Clementson as Cop and love interest ‘Sweaty’ Eddie in the Invercargill production. Jackson’s gang will be played by Chris Symon (TJ), Blair McHugh (Joey) and Rychalo Thompson (Pablo). Matt McMenamin will perform the role of Eddie.

Charlotte Taylor and Greta Casey-Solly will complete Deloris’s cabaret trio in the roles of Michelle and Tina.

Nickie Wellbourn as Sister Mary Lazarus

Veteran musical theatre and cabaret entertainer Sarah Greenwood-Buchanan steps back on stage as Mother Superior. Her most recent supporting lead role was as Tanya in the sell-out Showbiz season of Mamma Mia! The principal nuns will feature Hannah Falconer (Sister Mary Robert), Kate Taylor (Sister Mary Patrick), Nickie Wellbourn (Sister Mary Lazarus), Anne-Marie Cotton (Sister Mary Martin of Tours) and Glenda Bailey (Sister Mary Theresa). Ian Lester will play Monsignor O’Hara and Raoul Neave will appear as the Pope.

Clementson and Purdie will be joined on-stage by a cast of more than 50 nuns, gangsters, altar boys, singers, dancers and musicians to create a stunning looking and sounding show with all the pizzazz of Broadway.

“The auditions for Sister Act were a revelation as auditionee after auditionee sang incredibly well – which of course meant we had to turn away some very good singers. It is a credit to the voice teachers in Christchurch,” says Brodie. “I am looking forward to hearing our Nuns singing together for the first time, which given their individual talents will be quite something.”

The Showbiz Christchurch production of Sister Act – A Divine Musical Comedy will be at the Isaac Theatre Royal from 8-23 September.


Meet Sister Act’s ‘Lady Fabulous’, Deloris Van Cartier

Monique Clementson: Deloris Van Cartier

Following an exhaustive search, we are thrilled to announce that Monique Clementson will be following in the footsteps of Broadway and Hollywood actor Whoopi Goldberg to perform the lead role of Deloris Van Cartier in Sister Act.

Cheeky, vivacious and with loads of charm, Monique will take to the Isaac Theatre Royal stage as ‘Lady Fabulous’ in Sister Act – A Divine Musical Comedy on September 8th. This hit Broadway musical features original new music by Tony and eight-time Oscar winner, Alan Menken (Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, Little Shop of Horrors).

> Meet Monique

More Cast Members Announced

> Meet the Sister Act Cast, Ensemble & Dancers