SISTER ACT (Music by Alan Menken, Lyrics by Glenn Slater, Book by Cheri and Bill Steinkellner)
OXOPS (Oxford Operatic Society)
Oxford Playhouse, 11-12 Beaumont Street, Oxford OX1 2LW
21-26 January 2019
Sister Act the musical is based on the 1992 film of the same name, starring Whoopi Goldberg, but with a lot more songs and dancing. The plot is simple enough. Night club singer Deloris Van Cartier (Katie Bedborough) witnesses crime boss boyfriend Curtis Jackson (Tim Younger) shooting a gang member whom he thinks has squealed to the police. Deloris goes to the police and tells Officer Eddie Souther ('Sweaty Eddie', played by Luke Saunders). Eddie knows Deloris from high school (where she was plain Doris), and the crush he had on her then revives. As number one witness to the killing, Deloris's life is in danger, should Curtis ever find her. On police advice, therefore, she hides in a convent, disguised as a nun until Curtis's arrest. A raunchy nightclub singer is about as different as you can get from a nun, which, of course, is the whole point: the clash of opposites. That gives us our springboard for comedy and drama.
Each of the main characters has a conflict to deal with. Doloris comes to realise that the love and support of friends (the community of the nuns) is worth more than the fame and fortune she has been pursuing as an entertainer. Sweaty Eddie leaves behind his wimpish past and becomes the hero who takes down Curtis Jackson. The Mother Superior (Marilyn Moore) is faced with the forced closure of the convent, but comes to accept that the change brought about by Deloris's arrival might offer an opportunity for the community to survive. Sister Mary Robert (Laura O'Mahony) wonders whether she really has a vocation as a nun.
Most of all, however, Sister Act is a vehicle for big musical numbers, led by the impressive voice and stage presence of Katie Bedborough and backed up by a talented company. Katie's Deloris is sassy and speaks as she finds, but is insecure deep down. If there was any criticism I would make of the production in general it would be that there could have been more of a character arc for some of the principals. Had they really been changed by their experience? One notable exception was Marilyn Moore's Mother Superior. This was a sensitively drawn character performance. The Mother Superior is not at all impressed by the changes wrought by Deloris's arrival in the convent, especially in the musical life of the community. It would have been easy to present the Mother Superior as some sort of stick in the mud, but Moore's sympathetic portrayal made me stop and think: hmm, maybe she has a point.
Luke Saunders gave us a 'nice guys come second' version of Eddie, which was well judged. After wounding Curtis Jackson and bringing about his capture, it would have been good, however, to see more of a transformation. He doesn't get the girl, but perhaps more confidence and even a little bit of swagger? Maybe something for director Dave Crewe to ponder. I was left with the impression that Sweaty Eddie really wasn't suited to his police job. Still, Saunders drew the audience's sympathy and played the comic moments well. My favourite was the number 'I Could Be That Guy' in which Eddie has three different costumes. Luke entered the scene looking a little bulkier than before. The reason soon revealed itself, as the company tore off his outer layers (a police uniform) to reveal a white and scarlet flared disco suit. This was ripped off him in turn, marking the end of the fantasy sequence and returning him to a police uniform once more.
Talking of Curtis Jackson, which I was at the start of the last paragraph, Tim Younger did a solid job at portraying the baddie, together with a remarkable pair of shiny 1970s flares. Suzannah Neal was terrific as the effervescent Sister Mary Patrick – naïve, bubbly and loving. Always looking on the bright and joyful side of things. At the opposite end of the character spectrum was Sister Mary Lazarus, the crusty old director of the convent choir. Jo Lainchbury made the most of the cameo comic moments for Sister ML that peppered the show. At odds with the Mother Superior over an unspecified choir dispute in the past, Sister Mary Lazarus embraces the changes brought by Doloris as a way of getting back at her boss. Her character arc was there for all to see. Finally, a word or two of praise for Laura O'Mahony as Sister Mary Robert, especially her solo singing performance of 'The Life I Never Led', full of doubts about whether she should progress from being a postulant to taking vows as a nun, or simply leave for another life outside the convent walls.
Compliments are due to musical director Julie Todd for some excellent vocal performances by both principals and chorus, and to choreographers Kerry Hudson and Rachel Haydon.
Dave Crewe the director can feel justly proud of a production that appears to have been playing to sell-out houses at the Oxford Playhouse. Katie Bedborough deserves full credit for her role as Deloris – a storming performance. There were enthusiastic roars of approval from the audience on the evening I attended for those musical set-pieces, delivered with a zest and energy worthy of a cast full of Sister Mary Patricks. Well done to all.
Photo credits: Simon Vail
About the Author
Mike Lord has been involved with amateur theatre for over twenty years, mainly as an actor but also, more recently, as a director.
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