Theatre in Wales

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Summer in Aberystwyth: Nun Better

Aberystwyth Summer Musical

Sister Act- Aberystwyth Arts Centre , Aberystwyth Arts Centre , July 30, 2014
Aberystwyth Summer Musical by Sister Act- Aberystwyth Arts Centre It is the last week of July and the epicentre of theatre in Wales has moved west. Eight or nine companies are packing their bags for the melee of Edinburgh but it is in Aberystwyth where the big show, the big noise and the big audience is happening. Nudge the person in the adjoining seat and the starting point for their journey might have been anywhere from Saundersfoot to Llanidloes. The box office is bursting good and the cast is a dream. Gareth Lloyd Roberts has even entered the spirit of his first summer musical by being pictured in the programme in nun’s habit.

The producers have had their eye on “Sister Act” for a while and been waiting for its availability. It plays to the strengths of the well-established team- Alan Menken’s score and Glenn Slater’s lyrics offer number after number for Anthony Williams’ snap-crackle choreography and fits to perfection musical director Michael Morwood’s six-member band. Paul Cusick get some lovely tones out of his guitar. Aaron Lee Lambert sings his big solo “I could be that guy” to a keyboard over loping bass and drum.

The plot of “Sister Act” is shamelessly derivative- the Harrison Ford film “Witness” meets “the Bad News Bears”. Not that it matters. But as a musical it has one distinctive feature in that the large-scale numbers are great choral blasts of singing. The clarity, playing to a packed house, is the work of sound designer Greg Pink. The chorus of nuns numbers between ten and twelve. In line with company habit the ensemble is opportunity for several debut performances. Amanda Walton, Bradley Judge, Jack Heasman and Briony Jones are all fresh out of college or university. Harriet Taylor, Bethan Pearce and Robert O’Malley are Aberystwyth familiars, stepping up to demanding and extended dancing and singing roles.

Lori Haley Fox makes her third appearance in Aber as the Mother Superior of the run-down Philadelphia convent. On first meeting the new member of her sisterhood she deftly removes a pair of sunglasses and deposits them in a waste paper basket. The nuns’ habit has served the order well, she says dryly, since the fourteenth century and accessories are not included. Lori Haley Fox’s singing voice spans the octaves and she has her equal in Jenny Fitzpatrick’s Deloris. She starts in a gaudy glossy bar, under a pile of eighties hair. Her voice is pitched to a brilliant scared whisper when she stumbles across murder. Hers is simply a performance of charisma.

The nuns are up against a quartet of physically and linguistically assorted bad ‘uns. George Rae’s TJ, geeky and bespectacled, looks as if he ought to be at home with pizza and keyboard. Ricardo Castro unleashes a great falsetto in his singing- his opponent, cop Sweaty Eddy, is a “Saturday Night Fever” fan- and speaks Spanish. Only towards the close does Andrew Gallo’s Joey, adorned with monster sideburns, say it “No-one can understand you.” Gang leader Curtis is played by Robert Grose. His solo number “When I find my Baby” is a model of relaxed and serpentine cool.

David Shields’ set is a series of receding arches with organ pipes and gothic twists and finials. In the wardrobe design the nuns’ habits are set against hotpants and trousers of ironed-on tightness.

There is a lot of fun to be had in Cheri and Bill Steinkellner’s book. Deloris’ admiration for nuns does not much go beyond her remembering their disabling the pursuers’ vehicles in “the Sound of Music.” Her prayers have stopped short at envy for a dress worn by Donna Summer. But a show needs a heart for its centre and “Sister Act” gets it in the role of Jodie Jacobs’ Sister Mary Robert. It is not often that the legions of the shy and the little-noticed get their voice. “The Life I Never Lived” is their anthem. The lyrics accumulate “I’ve never gone surfing/ or ran with a crowd/ Or danced on a table/ Or laughed much too loud.” Jodie Jacobs does it beautifully and poignantly.

“Sister Act” looks, and is, lavish but is drum-skin taut as well. No understudies for the duration of a summer season, a rehearsal period to make a usual director quake- it helps that the creators know one another. Gareth Lloyd Roberts acknowledges the many supporters for “Sister Act” across the board. He also ends his introduction with a sign-off that must be a first “mwynhewch ac Amen.”

“Sister Act” continues until 30th August

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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