Singing nuns, dancing priests and gun crime collide in this soul musical which brings people from the tough streets of 1970s Philadelphia and puts them in the pews of the Queen of Angels Church. The unelected ‘Queen’ of this transformation is Deloris Van Cartier, a singer struggling to secure that first big break, and who finds it in the most unlikely of places.
The musical first took to the stage in 2006, four years after the hit comedy film starring Whoopi Goldberg had aired, writers Bill and Cheri Steinkellner clearly recognising the recipe for success in the comedic all-singing, all-dancing formula.
The formula on stage in this production has added flavour with former X-Factor winner, Alexandra Burke, taking on the role of Deloris Van Cartier (later Mary Clarence) and Strictly judge, Craig Revel Horwood exercising his choreographic talents. Burke is sublime, her voice reaching heights few could muster and her subtle change in character from ballsy and brash to humble and compassionate is a perfect fit. Goldberg was so popular in the film role that it could be hard for someone else to put their own stamp on the part. But in the words of the reprised song in the show Burke is ‘Fabulous, Baby!’
And Revel Horwood’s influence cannot be underestimated, as so many productions fall flat when it comes to the movement and slickness (or lack of) in the transitional and dancing elements. However, here, we see simple yet effective dancing which has been rehearsed to perfection – clean lines, clever staging and dances which make people want to get up in the metaphorical pews.
The fun on stage is infectious but the show is not all frivolity, touching on the very real issue of more and more people turning their backs on faith and institutions such as the church. Mother Superior (Karen Mann) and Van Cartier (Burke) may not agree for much of the show but by the end they recognise that a combination of faith and human kindness may be the way forward in a world struck by so much tragedy.
Disco balls, seedy bars, holy bibles and gospel choirs may not seem like a successful combination but it is a heavenly hit bound to fill the theatre seats (if not the pews).