Julie Petrucci – Regional Representative NODA East District Four South
CAOS’ production of Sister Act was guaranteed to Take Me To Heaven, from the curtain up. There is no overture here so we were straight in to one of the best songs of the show and yet it is only in the reprise, with the nuns ensemble at the end of Act One, that we really appreciate it.
The action moves breathlessly from Deloris’ audition scene to her witnessing a murder, reporting it to the police and being hidden in the local cathedral. En route we meet Sweaty Eddy, the policeman with a crush on Deloris since schooldays and the caricature heavies, Curtis and his gang. We only get a hint of the fun to come from these guys before we meet Mother Superior and the full nuns chorus.
DeeDee Doke was splendid as the Mother Superior, steadfast, reliable, with a dry wit and a good voice that came into its own in Act 2. Len Packman as Monsignor O’Hara, brought a light and mischievous touch to this small role, making quite an impact. The lead nuns, of which there are several, are wonderfully cast providing variety and fun at the same time. Cat Nicol shone as the enthusiastic vocalist, Sister Mary-Patrick; Caroline Dyson provided grit and gravel as Sister Mary Lazarus, while Rosie Wells as postulant Sister Mary Robert, combined innocence, curiosity and courage with a beautiful voice (especially in The Life I Never Led).
As an ensemble the nuns were joyous to listen to and an absolute pleasure to watch; the choreography was fun and skilfully executed .
Eddie, Deloris’ latent love interest, was well played by the incomparable Steven Waring. His characterisation was sympathetic without being too down-trodden and his costume trick during I Could Be That Guy was great. Alan Hay’s Curtis was gruff and nasty with When I Find My Baby blending excellent vocals with surprisingly unpleasant lyrics. Loved the “Bee Gees” backing guys.
The three stooges, Joey, Pablo and TJ (played by Andrew Ruddick, Benjamin Kidder and Dan Lane respectively) were funny during their brief dialogue scenes but laugh-out-loud hilarious during the song and dance routine Lady in the Long Black Dress. These guys could not only sing and dance but did so in a way that milked every ounce of fun from it.
Finally, Deloris herself and the tour de force that was Trenetta Jones who brought a huge personality and a huge voice to this demanding role. Yet, in Act 2 when defending her Sisters from gunman Curtis, she was able to dial down and bring pathos and warmth to her character. This is a key role around which this whole show revolves and Ms Jones did not disappoint and can be summed up as Fab-u-lous Baby.
Finally a word on the technicals. The soaring set (courtesy of UK Productions) was superb and the stage crew under the management of Tim Roper did a fantastic job. With about twenty two scenes, several involving trucks to move around and cloths and sets to fly in and out, this was never going to be easy but it was all done very slickly. I loved all of the cathedral scenes but especially the stained glass windows and also the large scaffolding covered flats that represented the dilapidated building flown out when the restoration was complete. Alan Morgan’s lighting design was excellent; furniture and props were great and costumes outstanding, especially in the finale.
Last but definitely by no means least, the impressive orchestra under MD James Harvey was faultless as was the singing throughout.
From start to finish this was a very professional and highly enjoyable production that deserved its full houses and, I am sure, more than the one standing ovation.
If you’re going to stage the glitzty, popular Sister Act you need a strong cast to bring it off. Cambridge Operatic Society is very fortunate indeed to have its own larger-than-life black American in Tenetta Jones who can sing like an angel and packs her every appearance with near West End-standard energy and presence. Add to that the fluid, original and compelling choreography of Emma Olley, the skill of (imported professional) director Chris Cuming to keep everything fresh, sparky and well balanced, James Harvey’s impeccable 12 piece band in the pit and it’s hardly surprising the Cambridge Arts Theatre was fuller than I’ve ever seen it for a CAoS production. Packed, literally to the rafters, the theatre was pulsing with excitement and pleasure the night I was there.
Deloris is, of course, a nightclub singer who isn’t above supplementing her income on her back if it will further her career. When she witnesses a murder by her mafia protector (Alan Hay – suitably villainous) her life is in danger. The police – Eddie (Steve Waring – moving performance by a good singer and actor) – place her in a convent for her own safety. There she initially outrages everyone but is soon teaching the nuns to sing, dance spectacularly well and conduct their acts of worship with verve. Eventually the mafia are seen off, Deloris makes her peace with the Mother Superior (DeeDee Doke who lacks presence in the first act but blossoms in the second) and goes off to marry Eddie and have a glittering career. It’s a fairly simple but heart-warming story as anyone familiar with the 1992 Whoopi Goldberg film or the West End production at London Palladium will know.
The success of any production of this show depends on the chemistry and contrast between open-hearted, extroverted and often outrageous but also emotionally vulnerable Deloris and the straight laced Mother Superior trying to cling to control of her empire. Jones and Doke get a lot of this right especially in the second act as Doke’s character gradually softens and a real friendship between them is allowed to develop. And Doke singsHaven’t Got a Prayer with impressive despair, shot though with flashes of humour.
Amongst the men, Len Packman gives a very creditable and often witty performance as the ever-pragamatic Monsignor O;Hara. And Dan Lane, Benjamin Kidder and Andrew Riddick make a marvellous job of the three young mafia men who try to infiltrate the convent in disguise. There’s nothing new in musical theatre. It’s the same concept we see in Mozarts Il Seraglio or Gilbert and Sullivan’s Princess Ida. The old ideas are often the best and funniest.
Caroline Dyson as Sister Mary Lazarus shows that, good as she is (in other CAoS) productions at opera, she is also very versatile and goodness, she’s quite a dancer too. Rosie Wells is fun as the youngest nun. And the ensemble is very strong without discernible weak links or amateur incongruities – very rare in a non-professional show.
And finally a word about the sets. Hired from UK Productions they demonstrate forcibly that it’s well worth having the real thing even if it costs. Two tall triangular flats which slide together or sit apart provide front doors on one side and gothic church arches if reversed. And much other scenery is flown on. Stage manager, Tim Roper and the team manage all this beautifully and it really adds to the show’s professional edge.
Well done CaOS for doing this show now, incidentally. There’s a big professional touring production coming next year so the rights will not be available for a while.
What a fantastic evening Sister Act provided – truly roof-raising, joyful songs, dancing nuns, comic and emotional and some outstanding performances. Staged with the professional tour set as background, this is an outstanding piece of musical theatre – a highly polished production, you’ll be surprised that it’s staged by an amateur company. The Camb Operatic Society team played to a nearly-full house on the opening night (24 November) of Sister Act and had a well-deserved mini-standing ovation from an enthusiastic audience. The show centres around the story of Deloris, the wanna-be singer and badly-bit-on-the-side of gangster Curtis (Alan Hay in menacing form). Deloris witnesses him shooting a man and then has to go into hiding under police protection, provided by Sweaty Eddie (Steven Waring) who has had a crush on Deloris for years. He hits upon the cunning plan of hiding her in a run-down convent where the Mother Superior (DeeDee Doke shines in this role) is less than impressed with her latest reluctant recruit. She soon harnesses Deloris’s main talent, singing, to try and get the convent choir to sing in tune and this turns out to be the making of all concerned.
The talented cast and directors have made a great job of this show – Trenetta Jones is simply amazing as Deloris and the chorus and smaller roles were well-characterised, such as Rosie Wells as the wavering novice and Cat Nicol in joyful form. The male chorus was small, but perfectly formed, with the gangster trio (Andrew Ruddick, Benjamin Kidder and Dan Lane) carrying off the great comic number ‘Lady in the Long Black Dress’ with real style. Len Packman also deserves a mention for his portrayal of Monsignor, the rocking priest getting on down. The choral numbers, such as Take Me to heaven’, ‘It’s Good to be a Nun’ and ‘Sunday Fever’ are true showstoppers full of beautiful music, wonderful singing, movement and colour. They have lively, energetic choreography, well designed by Emma Olley, and the band led by James Harvey did a fine job with Alan Menken’s amazing music. The costuming was brilliant, with some great, fun touches and the finale costumes are glitteringly gorgeous, and the superb set provided the perfect backdrop. As with all good musical theatre, the sum of the whole is greater than the individual parts, when it all comes together with the audience and atmosphere in the theatre, this show is fantastic. Sister Act Rocks!
Stepping off Peas Hill into the unassuming Cambridge Arts Theatre, you could be forgiven for making the (slightly laboured) parallel with the plot of Sister Act itself.
Here, something glitzy, loud and rock ‘n’ roll is hiding behind understated, normal-looking walls. A step away from a polite English street lies a raucous evening of gospel, glitter and, strangely, guns.
It’s an odd idea for a musical: A brash but brilliant showgirl witnesses her mob boss boyfriend shooting an informant dead. Afraid she will talk to the police, he vows to kill her too. Assisted by the police, she takes refuge in a convent where she immediately sets about transforming the nuns’ underwhelming choir into a joyful, Motown-inspired gospel group.
I’ve never understood Sister Act. The mix of violence, revenge, and up-tempo singing has always seemed incongruous. Perhaps this is because, up until now, I’ve never seen it live. I’ve missed what the show is all about, something that comes across infectiously from the performers on stage at the Arts Theatre: Fun.
The Cambridge Operatic Society, who put on the production, have an embarrassment of riches as far as talented performers are concerned.
Trenetta Jones delivers a powerhouse performance as showgirl Deloris, with Alan Hay striking a balance between hilarity and menace as mobster Curtis. Rosie Wells excels as shy young nun, Sister May Roberts, while Len Packman takes a terrific comedic turn as Monsignor O’Hara.
The venue lends itself to the performance too. Initially feeling too small to contain the mammoth Broadway sensibilities of the show, the Arts Theatre quickly shows itself to be equally suitable as a dingy Reno nightclub and an echoing gothic church hall.