By Mike Bryant
Out of the shows I've been asked to review for this musical season, Sister Act is probably the one I had the least formed opinion about. I've listened to the Original London Cast Recording many times and, although there were a couple of songs that I adored, by the time the recording finished, I was left more bamboozled than satisfied.
This only goes to show that though there are some shows that are just as enjoyable to sit down and listen to, there are other shows that need the full spectacle to be fully appreciated. Sister Act definitely falls into the second category for me.
For those of you who haven't seen the film (that idea makes me sad. I actually had to explain to a friend who Whoopi Goldberg was today. There are people in the world who don't know who Whoopi Goldberg is! But I digress...) Sister Act is about a lounge singer named Deloris Van Cartier who witnesses a mob murder and gets hidden away in a convent so the evil gangsters can't find her. What ensues are many classic fish-out-of-water shenanigans set to a disco-inspired beat.
What I got from Wellington Musical Theatre's production of Sister Act was exactly what I expected. Fun, light, fluffy entertainment.
The amount of effort that the cast and crew put in was obvious and exactly right. The choreography by Stacey Neale was fantastic and seemed to fit each individual cast member's abilities to a tee and, even though I am very much not a dancer (see every Footlights show I've been in, ever), the choreography had that rare quality of making me want to get up, don one of those faaaabulous nun outfits and join in - it looked like that much fun!
Wellington Musical Theatre obviously has a larger budget than most amateur theatre companies and that showed in the sets and costumes, both of which set the time and place accordingly. Particularly the costumes. I want the costumes. All of them. I don't care if they don't fit me, I want them.
Leading the cast was Deloris, played by Lahleina Feaunati. Feaunati sang the role with such conviction that made the character's singing career seem like a legitimate thing. She nailed every single note and I was absolutely blown away; my only major note on Feaunati was that although she nailed the sassy, smart-mouthed aspects of the character, it started to feel a bit one-note after a while. I would have preferred to see a bit more nuance in the character with less of a focus on the sass and more on how big Deloris' heart is, especially since I feel that Feaunati could have pulled the softer parts of Deloris off really satisfactorily.
Other cast members I liked were Footlights alumni Tania Parker-Dreaver as Sister Mary Patrick and Joe Mara as Sweaty Eddie. Parker-Dreaver played the adorably optimistic and perpetually cheerful nun with great aplomb (but to be fair, how much of that was acting and how much of that was just how she is in real life is up for debate) and Mara's voice soared majestically and turned a forgettable song into one of the many highlights of the show.
Jess Old portrayed the sweetly shy Sister Mary Robert absolutely beautifully, fully inhabiting this character so completely that you just want to take her home and look after her. (In a parental way. Not in a creepy way.) Jonathan Morgan, Ben Emerson and WIlliam Dean (the latter two both being Footlightians... Footlighters? Footlettes?) threatened to steal the show at certain points, particularly Morgan, who I found endearingly naive and utterly hilarious.
But, by far, my favourite person onstage was Stephanie Gartrell who infused the character of Mother Superior with all of the gravitas needed. Any time Gartrell made an appearance, I couldn't stop grinning. She had the exact amount of dry humour and personality required to bring such a straight-laced lady to life and her voice on "Here Within These Walls" gave me goosebumps.
Overall, this show was such a fun time. I laughed a lot and it was a perfect way to escape a miserable, rainy day. Good job to the cast and crew.
Sister Act runs until September 24th at the Opera House.
TIckets are available at http://premier.ticketek.co.nz/shows/show.aspx?sh=SISTERAC16