Review: The Melton Mowbray Theatre Company’s Sister Act production was worthy of the West End

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Well bless my soul and bless everyone involved! What a fantastic production of Sister Act by The Melton Musical Theatre Company which raised the roof at Melton Theatre last week, writes Jeff Bennett.

This joyous show bursting with sheer energy and talent wouldn’t be out of place on the West End or Broadway. From start to glorious finish, this ensemble piece zips along at a cracking pace with exactly the right combination of humour and pathos.

The 1970’s-set story of the wannabe singing diva, Deloris Van Cartier who witnesses a mob murder and is forced to hide in a convent for her own protection will be familiar to anyone who knows the 1992 Whoopi Goldberg film of the same name and on which the show is based. However, gone are all of the musical numbers from the film to be replaced by a host of excellent original songs composed by the phenomenal Alan Menken (whose credits include several Disney productions), with lyrics by Glenn Slater, every one of which fits the mood perfectly. The script too doesn’t disappoint and is both serious when it needs to be and downright hilarious for most of the time, with some brilliant one-liners coming from the most unexpected characters.

The direction by Mary Garbé was crisp and nuanced, getting the most out of her cast and the script, whilst the choreography by Suzie Hand was terrific, especially in the ensemble numbers when all the nuns were giving it their all! Supported as always by an exceptional orchestra under the assured direction of James Gutteridge, the whole cast and their audience could not help but be swept along by the whole affair, the enthusiastic applause from a packed house a true reflection of the quality of this wonderful company.

The energy and obvious enjoyment coming off the stage from the whole cast, but especially from the nuns in their musical numbers, was outstanding and it was a joy to be a part of it.

This is such an ensemble piece, that it would be unfair to exclude any of the cast, principals and chorus alike, from individual praise. However, with limited space to do them all justice, I have to point out a few who for me deserve a special mention. In her first appearance with the company and taking the pivotal role of Deloris, Yolanda Offodile gave a barnstorming performance, perfectly pitched with brilliant timing and seemingly inexhaustible energy especially when “getting down with the sisters.” You get the feeling she was born to play this part. What a star! As “Sweaty Eddie” Souther, Deloris’s high school crush and now her protector and local police officer (where would such shows be without a healthy dose of coincidence?), Andy Brown was in fine singing voice and played the shy cop who finds his courage and gets the girl to perfection; his delivery at times reminding me of a young Tom Hanks.

As the young postulant, Sister Mary Robert, Nina Morrison was excellent with just the right amount of naivety and enthusiasm. Her song “The Life I Never Led” was a stand-out moment for me.

All the principals were given solid support by the likes of Marilyn Pepper as the devout Mother Superior whose frustration at the effect this interloper is having on her charges, was a nice balance for all the comic business going on elsewhere and the ever-dependable John Taylor as Monsignor O’Hara who is gradually won over by Sister Mary Clarence (as Deloris is known inside the convent) was also on fine form yet again.

Comic cameos abound in this show. In fact, almost everyone who speaks has something funny to say at some point. Phil Hopkinson, John Stewart and Peter Etherington had the audience in stitches as the villain’s incompetent stooges and Margaret Dorn as the curmudgeonly Sister Mary Lazarus had some of the best one-liners in the show. But special mention must surely go to Nicola Hurton for her whirlwind performance as the perpetually excitable, Sister Mary Patrick. Her energy and enthusiasm was quite infectious.

Thank you TMMTC for a superb production of a terrific show.