It has almost been eight years since Alexandra Burke won The X Factor with her breath-taking rendition of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. While she may have scooped the 2008 Christmas number one with over one million copies sold – in the UK alone – nowadays, Burke seems to prefer the spotlight on a different kind of stage.
Sister Act is the second mammoth musical theatre production she has starred since her X Factor departure and, seeing her live here for the first time, I am extremely glad that she has decided to make this change.
Deloris Van Cartier is to be shot dead – at least that’s what her married lover Curtis (Aaron Lee Lambert) tells her when she witnesses him kill an innocent man. For her own protection, and despite what she believes will benefit her pop career most, detective Eddie (Jon Robyns) arranges for Deloris to take refuge in a San Francisco convent where she adopts the pseudonym Sister Mary Clarence.
The church is to be closed due to funding problems and sold on to become an auction house – that is until Deloris enlists her help with the church choir, making them an international musical phenomenon in a matter of days.
Sister Act was adapted for stage in 2006 following the success of the 1992 movie starring Whoopi Goldberg. It features a toe-tapping soundtrack of Philadeliphia soul music – a fusion of 1960s rhythm and blues, orchestration and funk.
When faced with filling the shoes of none other than Goldberg (Deloris in the movie adaptation), one might run in fear, but Burke seemed up to the challenge.
Her portrayal of the feisty and entitled wannabe pop star Deloris Van Cartier was energetic, powerful, relatable and tearfully hilarious on so many levels. When someone delivers such a high standard of performance, it seems almost incomprehensible that they would also happen to be a product of one of music’s largest predators: talent shows.
Burke was supported by a fantastic ensemble of dually talented people. An ensemble who doubles up as the band on stage, in nun attire, is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. Given that the majority of songs were performed between dialogue and singing, without the visible guidance of sheet music, and by individuals who frequently switched between instruments where necessary, extra special acclaim must be given to this superhuman, super talented cast.
A couple of the greatest highlights in the production include the choir’s revival of Delori’s audition number, Take Me to Heaven, where they debut as a sweet sounding ensemble for the first time under Deloris’s care, and also an absolutely sublime slow motion invasion of Curtis and his gang in the finale.
Some of the humour did appear to be lost on the audience at times and technical errors with microphones were plenty. However, this did not stop the audience from giving Alexandra Burke and her co-stars a standing ovation on their opening night.