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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Sister Act goes with bang not a wimple

There’s “nun” better than Llangollen Operatic when it comes to presenting shows that are a break with the usual am-dram fare – as they have proved yet again with their current production of the musical Sister Act, which opened at the Town Hall tonight (Tuesday).

And they’ve certainly got themselves well out of the habit of presenting the more staid old stuff with this foot-stomping little number based on the smash-hit 1992 Whoopi Goldberg film of the same name.

The stage version, which Llangollen is amongst the first amateur societies in the UK to perform, is by Bill and Cheri Steinkellner with lyrics by Glenn Slater and music by Alan Menken.

The piece simply rocks `n’ rolls along from start to finish, thanks to the supreme exertions of the 30-odd member cast who ensure the whole thing goes off with a bang rather than a wimple.

The slick action centres on Philadelphia nightclub singer Deloris Van Cartier who accidentally sees her gangster boyfriend, Curtis Jackson, and his hoodlum buddies bumping off a poor stiff named Ernie who they’re convinced has squealed on them to the cops.

As Deloris does a hasty bunk, the evil Jackson orders his henchmen to bring her back, thus setting off a dramatic chain of events which leaves her seeking anonymous sanctuary in a convent.

Although the order of the day is that its resident nuns – Deloris assumes the identity of Sister Mary Clarence - cannot drink, smoke or wear anything less than appropriate garb, this flighty filly from the showbiz side of town has other ideas which, naturally, leads her into all kinds of bother with the Mother Superior.

Too many details given away here might spoil the plot for those yet to see it, but it can be revealed that Deloris eventually brings her musical talents to bear by taking over the running of the pretty ropey convent choir - with some spectacular results.

Llangollen newcomer Elen-Haf Taylor makes an immaculate Deloris, singing up a holy storm and contributing some neat comedy lines into the bargain.

But the real beauty of this production is its incredible strength in depth, with every one of the performers pulling out all the dramatic and musical stops.

For instance, the evil Jackson’s bumbling sidekicks, played by Michael Jenkins, Marcus Ansloos and Nico Decourt, make a perfect comedy trio and also deliver some powerful disco era songs complete with dodgy dancing. And Jackson himself – Simon Orton-Jones – is no slouch as an entertainer when he ain’t waving his gun.

Alison Ravenscroft as Mother Superior delivers some heavenly vocalisation as does Elizabeth Richards as convent novice Sister Mary Robert.

Crooning up a storm in his role as “Sweaty” Eddie, the cop who had a teenage crush on Deloris back when they were at school, is Ross Wilson.

A dozen or so nuns dominate the stage for most of the two acts and their singing and dancing talents run to much more than the usual chorus stuff.

Of course, it helps that the whole thing is crammed with some fantastically powerful musical numbers all evocative of the late 70s.

Outstanding amongst the scintillating sisters are Stephanie Cottam as Mary Patrick and Sue Stokes as Mary Lazarus.

Bill Cheshire starts off as the guy bumped off by Jackson before miraculously rising from the dead as first a taxi driver then no less than the Pope himself. Work that one out!

Gareth Lloyd makes a highly believable Monsignor O’Hara.

The show is deftly co-produced by Michael Jones and Tracey Rawlinson who was also artistic director and stylish musical direction comes courtesy of Elen Mair Roberts.

Sister Act has got to be one of the finest shows Llangollen Operatic has presented in many a year – a fact acknowledged by the rare standing ovation they received at the end of their first night performance.

Staging Sister Act was a divine piece of inspiration on the part of the Operatic and you’ve still got plenty of chances to see it as it runs for the rest of the week until Saturday, when there’s also an afternoon matinee performance.

You’d better pray you don’t miss it!

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