Inspired by the hit 1992 musical comedy, Sister Act tells the story of Deloris Van Cartier, a club singer who witnesses her mobster boyfriend commit a murder. Fleeing to the police, Deloris is placed under witness protection and winds up in a nunnery, run by the formidable Mother Superior. After clashes with the Mother Superior result in her being forced into the atrocious nunnery choir, Deloris sets out to transform the dreary lives of the sisters through music. A week before the first run, Impact sat down with director Rhodri Denton and actors Claire Wimbush (Michelle) and Amy Foden (Sister Mary Robert) as they put the final touches on Musicality’s annual production.
“…one thing that differentiates Musicality productions from those at the NNT is the sheer scale.”
For a team with such experience in musical theatre, Sister Act was something of a no-brainer. ‘Last year we did Fame,’ points out Denton, who has been involved in musicals since school. ‘That was pretty similar as they’re both big, fun, bright musicals. A lot of people have heard of them as well, as they’ve both had movie tie-ins.
Wimbush, whose experience includes both Musicality and New Theatre productions (Trainspotting, A Doll’s House), agrees. ‘I was really drawn to Sister Act because I love the film. I’d also seen the musical before and thought it was brilliant – I love all the songs.’
Of course, one thing that differentiates Musicality productions from those at the NNT is the sheer scale. Compared to the weekly NNT casts of five or six people, Sister Act counts a staggering twenty-two cast members. In addition to this there is the technical aspect of providing the soundtrack, as well as the day-to-day stage management. The result: five whole months of weekend rehearsals.
However, the team are far from daunted. ‘The rehearsal process has been really good,’ explains Denton. ‘It’s difficult doing a Musicality show because you’re in uni Monday to Friday and then you spend your whole weekend rehearsing. So from a student point of view we try and make that as fun as possible.’
For Foden, whose performance history includes Fame and Anything Goes, it certainly paid off. ‘I love the whole process, and it’s always brilliant when you can finally show people what you’ve done. It feels really worthwhile.’
‘It’s been intense but no different to last year,’ adds Wimbush, ‘so you just get used to it. We’re all so close that it just feels like seeing your mates every weekend.’
Naturally, a musical production would be nothing if the cast did not take to their characters as well. Luckily in a show as sharp and funny as Sister Act, this isn’t too much of a challenge.
‘My character’s quite brassy and shows off, and much of that comes across in the music,’ explains Wimbush, playing Deloris’s friend and fellow singer Michelle. ‘The songs are quite useful in that respect as you get the right vibe from them.’
“The whole thing’s run by students – the cast, team, backstage – so it’s great for people to say they can’t believe how well we’ve done.” – Director Rhodri Denton
‘Having watched the film and the stage show before, I found it was nice and easy to get into character,’ agrees Foden, who plays the timid but talented Sister Mary Robert. ‘My character was quite an obvious one. She’s very scared and very shy and it’s easy to channel that. Kind of just like high school all over again.’
From a director’s point of view, this natural connection with the character is vital to the performance. As Denton notes: ‘I think it comes down to the individuals in the cast more than anything. The way I work isn’t so much telling people what to do and where to go, it’s more building an understanding of what they want from the show and what they think about their character.’
This in turn helps to create a more personal aspect to the musical, which is particularly important when putting on a production of something that has already been released as a film and a Broadway show.
‘Obviously there’s the film and the big, famous Broadway productions, which you do take inspiration from. But you have to draw the line between taking inspiration from things and just plainly copying them.’
Perhaps it is this effect that gives Musicality productions the sense of professionalism for which they are known. ‘My housemates came to see Fame and said they couldn’t believe how professional it was,’ Denton recalls, ‘I really want people to take that away from Sister Act too.’ He finishes by stating: ‘The whole thing’s run by students – the cast, team, backstage – so it’s great for people to say they can’t believe how well we’ve done.’
‘I want the audience to go away feeling as good as the rest of the cast,’ Wimbush adds. ‘There’s some stellar performances and it’s nice that we’ve all been able to come together and make this thing over the last five months.’
‘It’s a really fun, uplifting show,’ Foden agrees. ‘I just hope the audience have as much fun watching it as we did making it.’
Big, bold and bursting with energy, Sister Act is just the right thing to banish those February blues.
Sister Act is on at the Nottingham Arts Theatre 14-17 February.
Poster and production shots courtesy of Musicality