A chance encounter at the Theatre Royal brought me to this school production, and I am glad it did. Sister Act ticks a lot of boxes as a theatre filling feel good musical show, and is perennially popular on the professional theatre circuit. It is not an easy show to stage, requiring a large cast capable of above average singing and dancing prowess, many set changes, and a strong musical base.
Sister Act is perhaps unusual in musical theatre in the number of strong female roles that dominate the story, and this reinforces the theme which draws attention to the power and capability of women working together. While it is set in a world of sleaze and crime the tale is upbeat and positive and promises redemption and justice, in sharp contrast to popular but morally disturbing musicals such as Miss Saigon.
Above all, this a song and dance show that takes us into the seamier side of Philadelphia with a late 70s funk and disco score full of memorable tunes. Deloris Van Cartier (Olivia Gotts) is a nightclub singer trying to persuade her gangster boyfriend Curtis (Harry Lloyd) to introduce her to a record producer. He rejects her plea but gifts her a fur coat belonging to his wife, so she decides to leave town. Taking time to call on him before leaving she witnesses him killing a supposed informer, so then is pursued herself by the gang. Police officer Eddie (Reuben Elvin), an old school friend secretly in love with her arranges for her to go on a witness protection programme by staying in a nunnery for a while. Here Deloris clashes with the Mother Superior (Liberty McCrohon), but then gets to work with the sisters on their singing and performance skills. The choir takes on a new energy and enthusiasm under her guidance which challenges the orthodoxy of the nunnery.
The Costessey cast features many strong performances from a talented young cast, all the principals give distinctive and enjoyable performances. Olivia Gotts leads the cast with passion and style, combining superb singing skills with a convincing blend of sass and vulnerability as she throws herself at whatever comes in her way. Liberty McCrohon is a redoubtable Mother Superior, always in character but with a good singing performance too. Izzy Girling gives us a very well received rendition of Sister Mary Robert, the youngest of the nuns who becomes a close friend to Deloris and sings the show-stopping number ‘The Life I Never Led’. Heidi Carrington-Gall also stood out in her role as Sister Mary Lazarus easily encompassing some rather snappy hip hop vocals, as did Alice Sage as Sister Mary Patrick.
The male leads are allowed a lot of fun in this musical, whether as bumbling gangsters or doing their own kitsch song and dance numbers. Harry Lloyd gave us a suitably mean Curtis, with sidekicks Ty Stevenson-Ricketts as his dopey nephew TJ, Joe White as Joey and Thomas Wilson-Gotobed as the Hispanic Pablo. These last three wowed the audience with some gloriously camp dance routines which they used to extract every possible visual gag from, while their nemesis Eddie was given credibility by Reuben Elvin as the guy who eventually gets the girl. Joe Taylor enjoys the role of Monsignor O’Hara, the church boss with a taste for nightlife.
A small army of other nuns, dancers, homeless people and drag artistes were joined by a large and capable stage crew needed to handle the rapid and numerous set changes as we moved from club to nunnery to police station to gangsters’ hideout. A live band directed by Dave Cowie hidden in the depths of the stage kept the pace up and our feet tapping. Director Dave Watson succeeded in getting a very large cast and crew to perform together with no upstaging or distracting lack of focus by individuals, a huge achievement with such a crowded stage and no doubt backstage. The set design and costumes are all delightfully designed to enhance the fun atmosphere of the musical although the complex set changes sometimes give us quite a long pause to get our great back for the next dance number.
In years gone by going to see a school musical could require a measure of indulgence as parents and friends saw their loved ones ‘do their best’, but this production had a level of skill and professionalism which matches many shows that I have reviewed by professional casts. The career of a stage performer is a perilous and competitive business, but Victory Facade have given this cast and crew a sound start to what could be a successful career for some of these talented young people. Their enjoyment is obvious and infectious and was given a long ovation by the sell out audience that I was lucky enough to join tonight. The Norwich area is blessed with a wealth of young theatrical talent and schools like this are helping dozens of youngsters to appreciate the thrills and challenges of performing to an audience. Sister Act shows that in Costessey the teachers have a right to feel proud of their achievements with this talented young cast.
© Julian Swainson 2018
Sister Act is at Costessey Ormiston Victory Academy until the 8th December, with shows at 7.30pm and a matinee at 2.30pm on Saturday 8th December. For more info and bookings go to http://www.ormistonvictoryacademy.co.uk/booking Tickets £10/£8
Tel 01603 734166