Sister Act @ Leeds Grand Theatre

26 August 2016


What do you get when you cross tone-deaf Nuns with a diva of Vegas proportions? The Craig Revel Horwood directed UK stage tour of Sister Act, that's what. 

Now I've never seen the first film, but I've seen the second (Lauryn Hill slaying) and I have to say from what I gather that this theatrical performance is incredibly different from both. It's worth noting that the songs are original and unique from Emile Adorlino's 1992 film starring Whoopi Goldberg, and Bill Duke's 1993 sequel. Oh, and there's no Whoops.

I was reminded throughout the show of another musical, namely Dreamgirls, the motion picture which stars both Jennifer Hudson and Beyonce. In her portrayal of Deloris Van Cartier in Sister ActAlexandra Burke (the 2008 X Factor winner) to my mind consistently channels Queen Bey. It's even apparent in the way she says the name "Curtis" (sounding more like "Curdis") which is also the name of Jamie Foxx's character in DG, who's Beyonce's love interest. Maybe this isn't surprising considering Burke duetted with Beyonce on the pop television show which launched her to fame. Maybe B even gave her some tips. But, this isn't to say Alexandra's starring role as an American chorus-girl-cum-Holy-ward is not convincing. In fact, in this role she shines. Her stunning voice reverberates around the Leeds Grand Theatre in a true Whitney Houston tinged fashion; it brings the house down.

From our first glimpse of Burke as Van Cartier, the singer on-the-run who becomes a Nun to evade revenge from her murderous ex-lover, it's apparent how flamboyant and sassy this production is going to be. She arrives at the Queen of Angels church, clad in high purple suede boots, to a throng of Nuns singing in a horrendous, farcical fashion. Over the course of the show, she teaches them how to "put... the sis back in Genesis," and preaches the power of Raising Your Voice. Feminist icon, or what!

In other Acts, we see coke-addled villains with deep, silky voices; we see an older Nun beatboxing in a backwards cap; we see other Sisters wearing habits jazzing out with Saxophones; we see Sweaty Eddie, who made me think of Todd Rungren if he was in law enforcement, in his 70s disco flares, lamenting his invisibility in the song "I Could Be That Guy" to a crowd of comical homeless people. Most of all though, we see an ensemble cast made up of multi-instrumentalists with spine-tingling voices of honey. Even characters with seemingly minor roles surprise the audience with their inherent vocal talent. 

There's comedy in Sister Act. There's fun. There's a trio of Flight of the Conchordsian bad guys, who sing about how they're going to chirpse the Nuns -- to no avail, naturally. It's a seamless production that echoes the fast-paced, glitzy campness of the Disco era. It could've maybe done with being fifteen or so minutes shorter as in the second act there was a bit of a lull in action, but all in all it was pretty fabulous.

Despite potentially receiving inspiration from other megastars, there's no denying that Alexandra Burke was, in her own right, the belle of the ball. I'd say she's our U.K. equivalent of the soulful divas across the pond. Equally as fierce, but far more fun and relatable.







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