The Brighton Academy’s Sister Act in Clermont Hall, East Sussex

On what seems to be the rainiest weekend this season in London a friend has come to visit from Hamburg. In advance we agreed that I’ll show her Brighton (I have never been during Christmas time) but before we head there I cannot see us drinking cocktails in a beer garden under a patio heater all evening without getting ill. We decide to book a show somewhere dry (my trip to Brighton’s comedy club Komedia in October was great fun already) and find some on visitbrighton.co.uk, then book the modern classic Sister Act. The film from 1992 is a family favourite I grew up with and there has hardly been a choir during my teenage years when we didn’t sing I will follow him – I have not seen the Alan Menken musical from 2006 on stage though but it’s an easy decision after I saw Aladdin in London’s West End and my friend the German version at home. It’s a production of local drama school The Brighton Academy and I feel a bit sorry for the students as Whoopi Goldberg, Maggie Smith and Harvey Keitel are without any doubt real screen icons. Filling their shoes must be quite a lot of pressure.

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No “I will follow him” in Alan Menken’s Sister ActWe take a taxi to the venue which is a hall in an old church, stripped of the benches so we sit on chairs facing the side wall. Gym equipment surrounds the hallway, but it does not matter because when was the last time you entered your seats through a pointed arch for anything but an actual church service? The pulpit to our left will be used as the actual one later in the play while to the right I spot two keyboard players and a drummer.

Sister Act’s comedy story is well known: Night club singer Dolores witnesses her on-off gangster boyfriend committing a murder and is put in a convent as part of a witness protection scheme. Struggling in this new microcosms so far away from the streets of Philadelphia when she is still physically in its city centre, she is being put in charge of the nunnery’s choir and adds soul music to their vocal approach – only to make the choir successfully famous above the city’s borders and hence becoming dangerously public once again.

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Perfect location picked!Not all seats are being used and as with most amateur productions the audience contains mostly friends and family as you can tell by their involuntary giggles when they see beloved ones in costumes and poses others might not find as funny straight away. However, the audience is very respectful and as if instructed lets the singers finish their solo finales until the very last note (interrupting performers singing with cheers is a pet hate of mine and the main reason why I rarely listen to recorded live music) – being familiar with Menken’s scores tonight confirms that these are very long indeed.

The singing in general improves with the lessons they receive (for some reason also the singing of the roles who did not participate in Dolores’ lessons) and in the end we have the whole church hall filled with chanting. I never thought how limited a nun’s habit would make you look like (but then disguising your body language is the whole point), with your face being the only feature of impression but we learn a lot about the quirks of every character and this being delivered simply through facial expressions is well achieved. In the end we love each character and do not regret having made the extra journey tonight from Brighton’s town centre.

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We need more discoballs in churches

Sister Act – based on the film

*** out of 5 stars

Music by Alan Menken, book by Cheri and Bill Steinkellner

We paid £15 per ticket plus fees.

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