Review: Sister Act, by Exmouth Musical Theatre Company

PUBLISHED: 17:23 12 June 2019 | UPDATED: 09:33 13 June 2019

Sister Act by Exmouth Musical Theatre Company. Picture: Alan DaBreo - Exmouth Photo Services

Sister Act by Exmouth Musical Theatre Company. Picture: Alan DaBreo - Exmouth Photo Services

Picture: Alan DaBreo - Exmouth Photo Services

Praise be for a hugely entertaining and professional show, with fantastic performances, a funky musical score, and exuberant dance routines

Sister Act by Exmouth Musical Theatre Company. Picture: Alan DaBreo - Exmouth Photo ServicesSister Act by Exmouth Musical Theatre Company. Picture: Alan DaBreo - Exmouth Photo Services

Nuns, especially of the singing and dancing variety, are funny.

There's really no way around the fact that watching top-to-toe clad, Rosary-wielding women of the cloth bounce from one spotlit cue to another is…just funny. Nuns have a long and illustrious musical theatre history, into which EMCo are not afraid to lean with unabashed joy - and for that silliness, at the very least, this critic feels divinely blessed.

The musical follows the same story as the original 1992 movie starring Whoopi Goldberg and, once again, we see a louche lounge singer, Deloris van Cartier, driven into hiding when she witnesses a mob murder.

Somewhat incongruously, the safe house chosen by the cops is a convent, which gets shaken to its religious foundations by the heroine, in her new guise as Sister Mary Clarence. Appointed to supervise the tone-deaf choir, she turns them into a group of swinging sisters whose sudden fame imperils both her and their safety.

Sister Act by Exmouth Musical Theatre Company. Picture: Alan DaBreo - Exmouth Photo ServicesSister Act by Exmouth Musical Theatre Company. Picture: Alan DaBreo - Exmouth Photo Services

Sister Act: The Musical has much to offer beyond a funky, disco-themed score by Alan Menken (and astutely musically directed in this case by Angela Blackwell and helmed by director, Joe McNulty).

It was a delight to see the Exmouth Pavilion Theatre packed for Thursday night's production of this smash hit musical. EMCo are riding high on the back of the critical success of recent shows including Evita, Rock of Ages and last summer's Into the Woods.

EMCo mainstay, Debra Butler, returned to the stage in the lead role as Deloris this year - having taken time away from performing to direct both Evita and Into the Woods. She bounced onto the stage from the opening bars and set the standard for the rest of the show.

The sisters carry the show overall and Debra invested Deloris with a wealth of raucous energy and was convincing in her conversion from fame-seeking individualist to member of the singing sisterhood.

Sister Act by Exmouth Musical Theatre Company. Picture: Alan DaBreo - Exmouth Photo ServicesSister Act by Exmouth Musical Theatre Company. Picture: Alan DaBreo - Exmouth Photo Services

Penny Daw lends the show some finely tuned and operatic gravitas as the Mother Superior and her deadpan comic timing was a highlight.

Particularly of note is the beautifully sung ballad by meek Sister Mary Robert (Emma Chudley).

Another notable member of the team was Rachel Hiland as Sister Mary Patrick, the eternally bubbly vocal powerhouse of the Order, Hiland not only manages to brighten the stage from her tiny habit peephole, but also proves to be a capable and enthused dancer of the ensemble, from her humble nightgown to sparkly finale habit.

Anne Killoran was wonderful as Sister Mary Lazarus, the grumpiest nun in the convent, and the moment she donned her sunglasses and rapped her heart out was pure joy.

Sister Act by Exmouth Musical Theatre Company. Picture: Alan DaBreo - Exmouth Photo ServicesSister Act by Exmouth Musical Theatre Company. Picture: Alan DaBreo - Exmouth Photo Services

Deloris' lover-turned-homicidal-maniac, Curtis (Hugh Chudley) played the role with suitable menace and his trio of goons, each with their own distinct character cues, were, frankly, hysterical when they had the chance to milk their absence of animal magnetism in true Barry White style.

Michael Smith also returned to the stage (after co-directing Rock of Ages) as lead good-guy, Sweaty Eddie Souther. His fantasy ballad, an ode to his unrequited love for Deloris, was superbly sung and his onstage triple layer costume change was an hilarious technical high point.

I have to congratulate the technical team on negotiating, with balletic precision, what was a sumptuous (and very substantial) set. The changes were seamless so as not to slow the pace of the action - and the lighting and sound were expertly handled in a way that beautifully complimented the actors and their story.

There was a ten strong live band that were obviously relishing the chance to get into the groove of the gospel driven, soul and disco score.

Sister Act by Exmouth Musical Theatre Company. Picture: Alan DaBreo - Exmouth Photo ServicesSister Act by Exmouth Musical Theatre Company. Picture: Alan DaBreo - Exmouth Photo Services

By the start of the second act, the audience had been won over and were with the cast all the way to the spectacular finale of the show. The stage was aglow with nuns in shimmering sequinned habits and goons with matching prison outfits.

There is nothing particularly profound about the plot of Sister Act. I didn't leave the theatre pondering the subtly of the songs or the metaphor of the story (as was the case with Into the Woods).

I did, however, leave the theatre with a massive smile on my face and a skip in my step. For a good old "feelgood" show, Sister Act is hard to beat and my most heartfelt congratulations go out to EMCo for reminding us that the town has a brilliant musical theatre heritage that belies its "amateur" status.

EMCo shows are typically a kitemark of a quality production. Social media after the shows has been buzzing with praise and promises to support EMCo in the future.

Sister Act by Exmouth Musical Theatre Company. Picture: Alan DaBreo - Exmouth Photo ServicesSister Act by Exmouth Musical Theatre Company. Picture: Alan DaBreo - Exmouth Photo Services

Sister Act was a gem of professional standards and I am delighted that so many of us turned out to enjoy it.

ALIX KELMAN

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