Get thee to a nunnery

Well, at least that was my thought on Thursday…
That’s when I finally went to see the immensely fabulous Sister Act. I liked it when I saw a bit of it at West End Live, I loved it when I got the soundtrack, but I utterly adored seeing it in the flesh.
My loyalty to Wicked remains for ‘best musical in the world – ever’, but Sister Act wins in terms of entertainment and atmosphere – not to mention costumes.
Who wouldn’t want to be a nun if it meant sparkly habits, glorious dance routines and catchy tunes? Honestly, I was sold – to the extent that I almost succumbed to the special offer combo of wimple and rosary at the gift shop!
Well, except for those pesky vows. Not sure it would quite be worth giving up alcohol & nice food and taking a vow of chastity (though some might say I already seem to have taken one). That, and apparently Sister Act doesn’t accurately portray the convent lifestyle – who’d have thought it?
Anyway, the show is fabulous. If you’re in London, watch it, you won’t regret it (promise). I particularly appreciated a couple of references to other musicals, that being the geek I am (indeed, my friend also being a geek), we got a lot of enjoyment from:
(i) Just prior to Sister Mary Clarence teaching the sisters to sing, she says “let’s start at the very beginning” to which one of the sisters responds “it’s a very good place to start”. Not only is this a wonderful cross-reference between nun related musicals, but the last musical to play at the Palladium before Sister Act was the Sound of Music. Clever.
(ii) The actress currently playing Sister Mary Robert (the timid postulant) was previously Nessarose in the original West End cast of Wicked. (For the non-Wicked initiated, she’s the Wicked Witch of the East in the Wizard of Oz and owns the ruby slippers.) At one point, Delores hands her a pair of awesome purple boots and suggests that if ever she needs to assert her independence she should put them on and click her heels together three times. I’d like to think that it was a deliberate pun.
Ok, I think you get the picture – I loved it. It was well worth the standing ovation it probably gets every night. Even the 80+ year old woman sat next to me jumped to her feet. And because you simply have to see the spangly habits in action, here’s the trailer:

Why all musicals should include nuns…

…well, why not?

The Sound of Music has long been an example of this, but now the new Sister Act can well & truly join the ranks of a classic nun musical.
An inspired gift choice from my sister was the brand new (i.e. less than a week old) stage soundtrack which has rarely been off my ipod ever since. There’s just something about the combination of classic film plot, nuns, Bible & church references, gospel/disco music that makes it utterly irresistable.
Add to the mix a classic composer of the Disney school (Alan Menken – Beauty & the Beast, Little Mermaid, Aladdin et al), and it really doesn’t matter that the film’s Motown soundtrack couldn’t be used.
I’ve not yet met anyone who’s seen the show and not liked it (and I’m not just talking about those who usually show a penchant for ‘musical theatre tat’), but there seems to be an added enjoyment for those with a church connection – especially a Catholic one. It’s all in the small details, like songs with the following lines in them:

“Shake it like you’re Mary Magdalene.”
“Fill th church, pass the plate! Everybody transusbstantiate.”
“Picture you and me one sweet, sweet night in a pool of votive candlelight.”
Wondeful.
And because my sister gave me another inspired musical gift – the classic Starlight Express – I’ve been able to spend the weekend doing a bit of comparing and contrasting of musical theatre styles…
Is it just me, or do other people sometimes conduct bits of their lives as if it were an academic exercise? Most often these thoughts occur when I’m listening to music and I’m all of a sudden back in GCSE aural mode (though not usually complete with a man narrating proceedings with an ultra annoying Birmingham accent – just the way he said ‘Midland Examining Group’ was enough to draw a groan from my class). It’s all to do with listening to patterns, falling in love with particular techniques/moments and identifying similarities with other works/composers.
I’ve decided to spare you my thesis on the topic. Suffice to say that Starlight Express – the first musical on rollerskates (only musical on rollerskates??) hasn’t aged brilliantly. Some great songs, but let down by random songs about trains. Maybe it’s one of the ones you need to watch to understand? Sister Act will probably last, it’s got that timeless Disney quality about it.
Plus, I still maintain that if you throw a couple of nuns into a show, you’ve got an automatic hit.
[As an aside, should you fear that my sister’s gifts have exacerbated my appalling taste in music, her presents also included the Daniel Merriweather album which I highly recommend. She was using the age-old tactic of using a decent music purchase to cancel out a suspect one – it helps balance the world’s equilibrium.]

Free London

London is one of the most expensive cities in the world. I enjoy (actually, that’s the wrong word, it depresses me) seeing the look of horror on non-London friends’ faces when they hear how much my rent and travel cost.

However, many of the best things in London are free: the parks, the river, observing tourists and pigeons, the people – I could go on. And, every so often you get a taste of the more expensive stuff at no cost at all. Like when West End Live takes over Leicester Square…
There are not many things in this world that get me out of the house ‘early’ (before 10.30) on a Saturday morning, but free musical theatre would be one of them. I usually avoid the rather sleazy & tacky Leicester Square area like the plague, but was more than willing to spend hours there watching the best of the West End take to the stage.
There were witches, drag queens, dirty puppets (Avenue Q made miraculously clean for a family audience), aliens, a purple dinosaur (Barney was a low-point in the day), Jerry Springer and last, but by no means least, singing nuns.
You’ve got to love singing nuns. Sister Act has now rocketed to the top of my ‘musicals I have to see very soon’ list. (And I’m on the verge of forgiving my musicals companion Annabelle for giving her spare FREE ticket to the show to her boyfriend last week, I’m not quite there yet, but maybe by next month…) Do not be put off by the lack of original music from the film, the new material rocks too.
Here’s a taste of it, courtesy of my rather shaky camera-work. (There is a moment when I get so excited by the imminent use of “stratesphere” – not a word used often in musicals – that I lose sight of the stage for a moment.) Enjoy, or download a couple of sample tracks from the show’s website.

Disturbed twice in one night

Firstly, when I had a moment of thinking “I’d quite like to be a nun, it looks fun.”

Secondly, when some Nazi officers walked past and the walls on either side of me were covered in swastikas.

Of course, I was actually just at the Palladium watching the Sound of Music (courtesy of free tickets from one of my lovely friends with contacts), but nevertheless, I was disturbed. (Although not as disturbed as when I saw Equus earlier this year.)

Being a nun always looks like fun until you remember the vows of poverty, obedience and of course chastity. Not to mention the fact that not all convents are located on the edge of a mountain or run by an Abbess who likes to sing about climbing mountains.

The Nazi thing was genuinely disturbing. In quite a clever piece of staging, the scene towards the end of the show where the Von Trapps perform at the Salzburg Festival turns the audience into the Festival’s audiences. Swastika banners drop down and Storm Troopers march up the aisles. Very, very eerie.


The show closes in London in February, but then tours. I highly recommend catching it, even if Maria is played with slightly more humour than Julie Andrews did in the film. (You just have to forget about the film, it’s hard, but otherwise you’ll always be disappointed.)