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Sister Act (Susan Elkin reviews)

Sister Act
Music by ALAN MENKEN. Lyrics by GLENN SLATER. Book by Bill and Cheri Steinkellner, and additional book material by Douglas Carter Beane.
society/company: WWOS (West Wickham Operatic Society)
performance date: 15 Nov 2019
venue: Churchill Theatre, High Street, Bromley, Kent BR1 1HA

Whenever I see Sister Act I’m struck by what a warm and affirmative piece it is. Deloris is a bit of a failure in the night club world but against the odds she’s a huge success in the convent where, eventually, she finds all the love and friendship she has previously lacked. In a hilariously unconventional way she finds a niche and I think that’s where the underlying strength of the show lies. And all this is in very competent hands with the well practised West Wickham Operatic Society.

Janine Kelly, who plays Deloris, leads two gospel choirs in real life so she brings terrific confident authenticity to the singing – and the development of the nuns into a famous choir – in this production. She sways, sashays, flirts, quips and yet presents a troubled rounded human being underneath it all. And her voice is a real delight.

Alison Rich is outstanding as Mother Superior. You might even say ‘superior’. It’s a lovely part full of self questioning and depth as well as human anxiety and irritation. Rich has a beautiful mezzo voice, speaks with very appropriate simple clarity and works intelligently with everyone she interacts with.

As the young Sister Mary Robert who in suddenly unsure of her vocation, Ellen Gauntlett richly deserved the big cheer she got at the end of the performance I saw. She sings like a nightingale and finds a very appealing innocent earnestness in the role. Even her ankle socks are poignant.

This show is directed – and well directed – by WWOS stalwart Kevin Gauntlett who also plays Monsignor O’Hara. I marvel at how he can direct and cast himself in such a major part (as well as having a demanding day job) although he makes a good job of both. We could, however do without his warm-up intro before each of the two acts. It feels like a self-indulgent bit of panto practice.

One of the most memorable features of this enjoyable and uplifting production is the size of the female ensemble. It consists of 34 nuns plus the six who have specific named roles. It enables Danielle Dowsett to do some very slick but expansive work with the choreography because the playing space at the Churchill is large and, on this occasion, there was real scope to make the most of it.

 First published by Sardines:
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Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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