Never before have I heard an audience collectively sigh in disappointment as the interval lights come up – a very clear indicator of the high quality of this show which marks GDS Productions’s first foray into the cavernous space of Central Theatre Chatham.
Sister Act is a fine, box ticking show – powerful story, fabulous libretto and book (all those witty Catholic puns – bravo Glen Slater who can right lines such as “celibate nuns shaking their buns”) along with Alan Menken’s melodious music and real depth of characterisation. It is also ideal for a non-professional company because there’s so much focus on the ladies’ chorus and it doesn’t matter too much if talented men are thin on the ground. GDS producions, directed by Francene Harris, has really taken all this on board and created a vibrant, hugely enjoyable piece of musical theatre.
Carly Caller gives a highly accomplished, quasi professional performance as Dolores, the wannabe night club singer who has to be hidden in a convent for her own protection by the policemen who fancies her (Scott Highway – good actor). Caller makes believable all the complex nuances of her troubled, torn, charismatic, caring, talented character, sings beautifully and looks terrific. Debbie Brennan as the traditional, defensive Mother Superior – so often in tension with glitzy Delores – is equally credible and creditable. Brennan’s ‘I haven’t Got a Prayer’ is a high spot for its sensitivity and humour. So is the impeccably hammed up Lady in the Long Black Dress by Lewis Matthews as Joey, Glenn Atkinson as Pablo and Aaron Ramsden as TJ. Ramsden, 16, in particular is elastic bodied, exudes stage presence and has an entertaining repertoire of goofy looks.
The ensemble work from the nuns – full marks to Bethany Kember and Emma Hodge for the exuberant, joyful choreography – hums along once the show gets going. The show itself is a slow burn start but that’s not the fault of GDS Productions. Each nun is fully characterised. Millie Longhurst as Sister Mary Robert provides a real show stopper with her wistful, assertive ‘The Life I Never Led’. Jeni Boyns sustains a gruff, gravelly voiced persona for Sister Mary Lazarus, and Rachel-Ann Crane- Herbert delights as the easily tempted, very appealing Sister Mary Patrick.
Behind all this – literally because they’re screened off, upstage – is a tight, twelve piece band under the baton of MD, Peter Bailey. They make a lovely sound and everything coheres musically as well as dramatically.
All in all then, this is another zinger for GDS Productions. My only tiny gripe is that it would flow better without the laborious, old fashioned scene changes by crew under near blackout. This show does not use complex staging. The minimalist props and other items could easily be carried on and off by the cast which would make it smoother. The breaks are a distraction.