Monday 3 March 2014

Sister Act in Prison - Pimlico Opera at HMP Bronzefield

Pimlico Opera
Pimlico Opera has been producing musicals in prisons since 1991, effectively doing an annual show mounted with the prisoners themselves joined by a few professionals. This year they are at HMP and YOU Bronzefield in Ashford, Surrey and performing Sister Act (seen 2 March 2014). The 2009 musical, with music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Glenn Slater, is based on the 1992 Whoopi Goldberg film, about a night-club singer hiding from her gangster ex-boy friend in a convent and transforming the choir. The plot, with its idea of a group of women in an institution being transformed into a choir, must surely have had some resonance with the performers. The cast included a handful of professionals , with Jocasta Almgill as Deloris, Elizabeth Elvin as the Mother Superior, Trever a Toussaint as Curtis, Deon Adams as Eddie, Ricardo Castro as TJ, Somn Nock as Joey and Deryck Hamon as Monsignor O'Hara. The show was directed by Michael Moody, conducted by Toby Purser and has choreography from Paul Chantry and Rae Piper.

Alan Menken is best known for his scores for Disney Films such as The Little Mermaid and Pocohontas. For Sister Act he produced a series of disco and gospel numbers, plus characterful solos for each character. It is perhaps not a great musical, but with the right performers it is a highly effective one. Pimlico Opera's production, combining as it did a stunning Deloris from Jocasta Almgill with the vibrant performance of the chorus, certainly hit the spot.

Almgill made a vibrant and very watchable Deloris, managing to take in both the big production numbers and the more poignant moments; the show requires a singer who can perform like Whitney Houston yet act too. Almgill gave a 100 watt performance, lighting up the stage. Elizabeth Elvin brought out both the humour and the dignity in the Mother Superior. Trevor A Toussaint was highly impressive as the gangster Curtis, turning in a Barry-White style solo backed by his own gangsters, Castro, Trevor and Nock. Deon Adams was highly sympathetic as the put-upon cop Eddie. Deryck Hamon was all charm as Monsignor O'Hara.

The remaining roles were all played by prisoners, with Gholda James giving a knock-out performance as the shy Sister Mary Roberts who comes out of her shell, plus Temitayo D as Sister Mary Patrick, Lucy as Sister Mary Martin-of-Tours, Anne Varney as Sister Mary Theresa, Aisha Murray as Sister Mary Celeste and Anne Marie Bailey as Sister Mary Lazarus. All had  their moment in the limelight and were highly characterful. The chorus brought a real sense of vibrancy and community to the performance and their big production numbers all had a vivid energy. They made you forget that most had never sung on stage before, and drew you into the show in the most engaging manner. The prisoners did not just provide performers, there was also a stage crew of six as well.

Michael Moody's production made highly effective use of the space, with Halla Groves-Raines designing a series of mobile units which kept the setting flexible, including accommodating big production numbers complete with staircases. The piece is set in Philadelphia in the 1970's and I have to say that the wigs in the first scene were a complete delight. The music was in the able hands of conductor Toby Purser, plus the 13 piece band.

This was simply a glorious afternoon in the theatre, with all the cast seeming to have as much fun as the audience. Performances run until next Sunday (9 March), so do try to catch the show; further information from the Pimlico Opera website.

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