Review: Sister Act, New Mills Art Theatre

It’s a miracle! A miracle in the order of fish and loaves. People… I have glad tidings!

Being a fan of the film, I couldn’t wait to see what changes from screen to stage would bring. If I may borrow a song title from the show, it was Fabulous Baby!

Sister Act blew into the Art Theatre with a huge slice of Seventies cheese. Lighting, good costumes and lively dance moves transported us back to the era of John Travolta, Donna Summer and disco balls.

As this is an original musical, the soundtrack featured in the film does not make an appearance. But I’m sure no-one noticed as within ten minutes your feet are tapping away to new tunes and snappy, meaningful lyrics. From the moment the curtain went up, I was drawn into 1970s Philadelphia, and by the close of the performance I knew New Mills was filled with talented, dancing nuns.

The scene is set in Curtis’ “Ladykillers Night club” (very aptly named) where Gary Ward plays a very convincing psychopath who decides to send his henchmen to find Deloris Van Cartier (Maria Dunford) who has run away having witnessed Curtis commit a murder.

Soon, under police protection organised by a potential love interest Officer Eddie Souther, played spectacularly by Stewart Bowden, our street wise Deloris is secreted in a convent where she meets the somewhat avaricious Irish Monsignor (Geoff Lunn) and the incredibly faith driven Mother Superior – beautifully played by Becky Towner Yates. After this, nun fun typically ensues.

Maria Dunford makes an incredible leading lady as Deloris, ably demonstrating an excellent singing voice to pack so many varied emotions into her songs. She commanded the stage and provided a nuanced performance. Stewart Bowden was excellent and stole the male comedy.

I was impressed with Harlie Farmer’s portrayal of the young postulant Sister Mary Robert; her delivery of ‘The Life I Never Led’ will touch many hearts. Other rich performances are that of Beverley Eaves as the pessimistic Sister Mary Lazarus. The director has made sure that detailed characterisations are drawn, especially from Kim Cooper as the ever smiling and optimistically funny Sister Mary Patrick. Similarly, Helen Provart, as the out-there wacky Sister Mary Martin of Tours strikes a rich vein of comedy.

Energy just leaps off the stage and I can guarantee you will not fail to be amused and entertained by some fantastically synchronised dancing, super harmonies and a story which moves along at a cracking pace. The dancing was very good –movements suited the nun’s habits. All the nuns provide a very funny evening’s entertainment and are guaranteed to warm your hearts on these chilly November nights.

And yet, there are quite a few male leads in this story whose antics (bordering on farcical) provided the audience with many laughs.

Although utilising a basic black-box set, the production is creatively lit to suit the atmosphere in each scene. Well-built practical sets with notably incredible church windows catch the eye and always provide the appropriate context. Clever use of these smaller pieces of set helped move the performance swiftly from location to location. All scene changes were brisk and precise.

Director Rob Brittles and choreographer Carolyn Dent have drawn out some outstanding performances from the cast and included some lovely detail. Watch out for the flying bread buns in Act 1 and the chase scene in Act 2 which reminded me of something from Scooby Doo!

Everyone in the company should be praised for their abilities and attention to detail. I often watched the ensemble when they were not centre stage and never saw anyone who was not in character, all contributing with super expressions – all working together as a cohesive unit to give uplifting, joyous performances.

Finally, I must point out the wonderful band put together under the musical direction of Adam Hutchins. The band, along with the fantastic singing and dare I say heavenly harmonies, help to give an all-round brilliant must-see family musical.

It was divine! Thank you New Mills Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society.

By David Carlile