It’s been far far too long since I had the pleasure of seeing a bit of musical theatre, so needless to say I was hugely excited to see Sister Act at Bradford’s Alhambra theatre this weekend. Especially with the knowledge that the show had been put together by Craig Revel-Horwood and would star Alexandra Burke, who I have long since said is the greatest talent to come from a British TV talent show in my lifetime – Apologies Leona fans. The question was, would the show live up to my expectations?
Well, the short answer is, yes it did. The longer answer is that it completely bowled me over and I had to strongly pull myself back from boring my poor boyfriend with all the various reasons I loved even the smallest details.
Revel-Horwoods direction was sublime. Thanks to my performance roots I love it when I can see every aspect of the artistry and each and every minuscule aspect of a production has been thought about. In my days as a Performing Arts student, one of the pieces I was – and to this day still am – the most proud of was a piece I devised with a very good friend of mine, where the entire set was on wheels and each scene change was rolled out by the cast members to the play’s main musical track ‘Send me on my way’ by Rusted Roots. I think that having scene changes visible to the audience, but conducting them in a way that each member of the cast remains in character and the change flows with the feel of the play is extraordinary, and the cast and crew of Sister Act pulled that off tremendously well.
Not only was each scene change worked into the events of the previous scene, (a personal favourite was seeing a drag queen pick up a chair and chase a number of cast members off the stage yelling ‘Give e back my boobs’), but they were conducted so smoothly and worked so well with every aspect of a scene change – the entrance of new characters, wheeling on new props, even the lighting changes- that I was engrossed even between scenes. The stage was never in darkness (except for when a particular black out was crucial to the story line) and that, for me, is one of the most beautiful things you can do in a theatre.
Revel-Horwood took my love of having every aspect of a production on show, one step further however. There was no orchestra pit. The band were not hidden in an hole at the top end of the stage. Instead they were integrated into each and every number, with a number of the cast actually carrying their instruments throughout scenes so that they could play them, themselves whilst performing their songs. It was, in my opinion, a great creative decisions that fully showcased the talents of each member of the cast.
The cast were all wonderful and fully deserve a huge amount of recognition. Each and every one of them served to create a beautiful chemistry between characters and they all captured the comedy of Sister Act extremely well. Comic timing is, in my opinion, one of the hardest things to achieve as a performer, and I’m not entirely sure that it can truly be taught, but each member of the cast had comic timing by the bucket load.
The vocal performances were incredible. The male cast members in particular really surprised me. I had expected Burke’s voice to overwhelm the memory of any other performer in that show, but thankfully that was not the case. Aaron Lee Lambert and Joe Vetch and Curtis and Eddie deserve a great deal of recognition for their respective solos. Both of them delivered not only great characters and played their parts well, but their voices blew me away. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the male members of the cast very nearly stole the show, and I think they would have done, had it not been for the stand-out performance of Alexandra Burke.
I’ve already made it clear that I admire Burke’s singing, I think she has one of the greatest and most versatile voices the UK has ever produced and it saddens me that she hasn’t had the chart success she clearly deserves, especially when compared to some of the ‘talent’ that does seem to be going strong in the music industry. But in this performance Burke revealed a secret weapon, not only can she belt out a tune – I think most of us already knew she had that talent – But she is also, utterly hilarious. Every, single comedic aspect of her performance was on point, she had her timing and delivery down to a T and I would go so far as to say she gave the best leading lady performance I have ever seen in musical theatre. She has shown in her time with this tour that she is undoubtedly a triple threat, she can dance, she can act and boy can she sing. I will say with no hesitation that she is the greatest live singer I have ever had the privilege to watch.