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Review of Sister Act by the Northampton Musical Theatre Company at Royal & Derngate (Derngate), Northampton

South Pacific at Royal & Derngate last year set a remarkable benchmark for an "amateur" production, with a large talented cast, superb vocals, sets and a polish up there with a professional production. Sister Act, this years production from the Northampton Musical Theatre Company was more of the same, but perhaps taken up a notch or two.

Sister Act is a musical based on the 1992 Whoopi Goldberg comedy and was first performed in 2009. Written by Bill and Cheri Steinkellner, it is a likable and fun musical which genuinely came as a surprise to me.

The opening scene at Curtis's Bar and Nightclub is to be honest not the best though and genuinely didn't fill me with much hope. It feels as if it gives nothing to the cast, although it creates the premise of the story coupled with the incident outside the bar. Likewise, I didn't take much to the Police Station scene either, so it didn't bode well.

When we reach the Queen Of Angels Cathedral though, this show becomes a different world. From the moment we have to listen to the excruciatingly painful choir and the magnificent first rendition from the Mother Superior (Mindy Robinson) of 'Here Within These Walls' we are very much up and running. The nuns are indeed magnificent and once we are contained within the bosom of the cathedral, this becomes a delightful feast on the ears, eyes and that funny bone.

At the centre of the action throughout is a star making performance from Beth Hodgson as Deloris Van Cartier. She works her way into our hearts from the abrasive, almost horrible character at the beginning to the spirited and lovable person she learns through the nuns to become. Her partnership with Mother Superior is marvellous, with magic moments like the confession box scene a delight.

Mark Woodham's character of Monsignor O'Hara also goes through a rather delightful development. All prim and proper to begin with and later showing that he has the killer moves himself. Also another one hoping to have the killer moves is Pete Thorn's Officer Eddie Souther, out to get the girl but feeling awkward about it at all times. His sorrowful 'I Could Be That Guy' also gets to showcase another area of this superb production, the costume work. That is one neat, neat trick and oh so, smoothly done.

The baddie of the piece Curtis is played by Matthew Berrill, who was incredible in last years South Pacific and is no less a disappointment here, although he sadly has less to do. What he does get to do though is perform by far the funniest song of the musical 'When I Find My Baby'. A most deliciously black comic song and performed to perfection. His accomplices are no less disappointing. with Dan Hodson swapping his South Pacific coconut bikini for the most ridiculous wig and with T J (Josh Wright) and Pablo (David Routledge) they perform the tremendous crowd pleasing 'Lady In The Long Black Dress' with comic brilliance.

The nuns include a magnificent array of talent from Lillian Thorn's gentle Sister Mary Robert, to Sally Whitestone's wonderfully miserable Sister Mary Lazarus. Also great credit to Dawn Hall as the Turin Shroud aged Sister Mary Theresa. She does indeed wield a mean walking cane.

The sets and stage work in South Pacific were a surprise, however with Sister Act the bar has indeed been raised with busy stage crew work from Weekes Baptiste, Katie De Stefano and their team keeping a genuinely large amount of scene work moving along. The sets themselves, particularly for the cathedral are nothing short of magnificent, for what is I repeat, an amateur performance.

So a talented and magnificently large cast of 35 have taken to the stage and created a wonderful and surprising production of Sister Act. It is and will always be remembered as fabulous. A must see as the packed audience last night (and looking like every night) found out. Roll on October 2016 and what is sure to be an incredible Grease. In the meantime, get your act together and go see this near perfect production.

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Performance viewed: Wednesday 28th October, 2015 at the Royal & Derngate (Derngate).

The Northampton Musical Theatre Company performs Sister Act until Saturday 31st October, 2015. Their website can be found at http://www.nmtc.me.uk/, while they are also on Twitter @theNMTC

For tickets for Sister Act visit the Royal & Derngate website at http://www.royalandderngate.co.uk/whatson/2015-2016/Derngate/SisterAct/?view=Standard


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