Sassy Sister Act musical is a fun and feel-good night out

The musical version of the much loved 1992 Whoppi Goldberg film Sister Act was a breakout smash when it premiered in 2006 and the show has been touring the world ever since. Now it’s Auckland’s turn to enjoy this high energy and infectious musical starring awesome performers and a fantastic supporting cast that more than delivers the music and comedy of the original film.

The trend of turning movies into musicals is always a bit hit and miss but Sister Act, with its roster of great sixties tunes, is a natural fit as it was already halfway there. The plot remains the same from the movie – aspiring nightclub singer Deloris Van Cartier witnesses her gangster lover murder an informant and is sent into witness protection by the police until she can testify against him. She hides in a local convent, posing as Sister Mary Clarence, and ends up leading the choir to glory and saves the church in the process.

It differs from the movie in that the score is original with music by Disney stalwart Alan Menken and lyrics by Glenn Slater. The songs are a mix of seventies inspired pop, Barry White-esq croons and Mo-town. Menken’s Disney roots are apparent in the ballad “Bless Our Show” and the ballad “The Life I Never Led”, which could just as easily have been in Frozen.

Although the earlier numbers are great, the show really gets underway once the nuns’ chorus kicks in and without doubt, the ensemble pieces are the highlight of the show. Sister Act needs a fabulous woman to lead the way and Keshia Tunks has the sass, personality, and epic voice to dazzle her way to a happy ending. It’s always a difficult call when the original movie’s casting was so strong and we all hold them so close to our hearts, but Tunks made Deloris all her own.

The supporting cast were no slouches, either. Helen Medlyn, as the much-put-upon Mother Superior has some great tunes of her own, especially “I haven’t got a Prayer”. The hapless trio of bad guy sidekicks, played by Sean McFarlane, Gerard-Luke Malgas and David Mackie, were a comedic delight in the few scenes they had – especially their Barry White-inspired moments. Matthew Cutts as mob boss Curtis showcased his West End experience with a suitably malevolent turn as a charming villain, while Keith Marr as ‘Sweaty’ Eddie brought a nice degree of pathos to his unrequited love for Deloris with the R&B “I Could Be That Guy”.

In such a large ensemble piece, it’s hard to stand out but director David Adkins and music director Zac Johns have done a great job giving the nuns a distinctive personality, especially Sammie Campbell as the shy Mary Roberts, and Lyn Webster as Mary Lazarus. The dazzling costumes and slick set design rounded out an entertaining and engaging show.

Sister Act’s fantastic high energy performers and abundant catchy numbers make this a fun and feel good night out at the theatre.

Sister Act is on at ASB Waterfront Theatre from 25 November to 16 December.

Reviewed by Adrienne Kohler.

Presented by The Amici Trust & Amici Productions.