Review Sister Act, Venue Cymru by Richard Evans

Venue Cymru, February 13th to 18th 2023

Directed by Bill Buckhurst, book by Cheri Steinkellner and Bill Steinkellner, additional book material, Douglas Carter Beane

Produced by Jamie Wilson productions, Kevin McCollum, Gavin Kalin, Robbie Wilson and Curve

Music by Alan Mencken, Lyrics, Glenn Slater 

 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

“This is a house of worship” “But this could be bigger than Broadway!  Bigger than Vegas!”

The premise behind Sister Act is great: a nightclub singer and gangsters moll on the run after witnessing a murder finds sanctuary in a convent and turns good while transforming their choir from a discordant mess to angelic sweetness. There is plenty of room for farce and slapstick in here and a thrilling ending to go with it.  

There are some excellent parts to this production, especially the singing, as you may expect from Sandra Marvin as Deloris, Lizzie Bea as Sister Mary Robert and more surprisingly from Clive Rowe  as Steady Eddy who stole the show a couple of times.  There is a nice line in humour and some great costuming and choreography.  The set is imaginative and the change from nightclub to convent to police station and back again is slick.  Leslie Joseph is both assertive as she dictates what she expects of the order yet vulnerable as she sees firstly her church community and then the sacred traditions threatened by modernity and the whirlwind that is Deloris. 

As this play is based on the 1992 film of the same name, there are some tough acts to follow. Does this play manage to recapture the appeal of the film?  I have heard some people bemoan the fact that the music is totally different, but this underestimates the quality of the songfest here.  

However, from memory, one thing the film did well was get a good balance between respect and parody.  Like all institutions, the church should be open to being satirised but they are entitled to be represented fairly as well.  I am not sure the play does this as successfully as the film. I was not convinced with a lyric from the mother superior that questioned whether God existed.  In addition, the lyric where the young novice expressed the desire to choose rather than to obey misses the point which is that the monastic life is one where you chose to obey.  In both these examples the musical seems to underestimate the power and depth of personal devotion.  

The limited scope of the stage compared to the film set also precluded the emphasis on service to the community which was a major feature in the original and is something that any faith community should seek to do.  However, there was a willingness to debate the relative merits of a materialistic and spiritual lifestyle and plenty of respect was paid to those who have taken the vows of a nun.  Whenever a play has some gentle moralising, it is important to get these social issues comments correct.  

However, such criticism is perhaps unfair on a production that is primarily a musical show with a happy ending.  In this light, the play is highly successful.  All in all, this was a good nights entertainment and was warmly appreciated by the sell out crowd. 

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