Thursday 9 April 2015

Hawick AOS - Simply 'Fabulous, Baby!'

I was really excited to attend Hawick's production of Sister Act - not just because Hawick put on a good show, but it was also my first time seeing the stage show of 'Sister Act' and also the debut of our brand new set for it!

I unfortunately missed last year's production of 'Summer Holiday' but had heard reports from numerous people, including our owner Kate about how good it had been so I was definitely looking forward to seeing what they did with 'Sister Act'.

'Sister Act' is a great choice of production for many societies as not only is it a new, fun musical adapted from a popular movie - we always believe that a show will be popular when there has already been a well loved film and I doubt many people haven't seen the iconic films starring Whoopi Goldberg, but it also solves that classic problem that many societies struggle with today - not having enough men! 

As much of the show is set within a convent there is a multitude of different roles and characters for women that all play to different strengths, and most importantly includes roles for all ages. A lot of the more traditional musicals focus on having a younger male and female lead so it is a breath of fresh air to see a musical where many of the main roles can be played by older members of the society - who can often be relegated to the chorus despite having the talent and experience enough to more than hold their own!
Just within the main roles there is the comedic Sister Mary Lazarus (a personal favourite!) the sweet Sister Mary Roberts, the enthusiastic Sister Mary Patrick, the maternal and protective Mother Superior -as well as the feisty Deloris Van Cartier herself! Of course there are also plenty of roles for the men in your society too - the thuggish Curtis and his cronies, the loveable Lt Eddie (Sweaty Eddie) , and the progressive Monsignor O'Hara amongst others.

Of course 'Sister Act' isn't just a simplified copy of the original film -with an entirely original score and an adapted storyline this is very much a brand new musical that I think will become a very popular choice amongst societies and, like 'The Producers' grow to become a well loved classic alongside older musicals such as 'Guys & Dolls' and 'Annie'.

We went on opening night and from the curtain up Hawick AOS were polished and professional. Kate had previously attended their dress rehearsal so we had the benefit of being able to compare performances - during the interval she immediately said that whilst she had been impressed at the dress rehearsal the energy levels were much much higher, and whilst some of the scene changes had been a tad slow in rehearsal on the opening night the stage team were slick and efficient. 

In 'Sister Act', as there are so many quick scene changes needed it would be impossible for total set changes (outside the West End of course!) and the pace of the show can easily be affected by a couple of sluggish scene changes. Luckily we have thought about all these issues carefully with our set design for this show but the pace of your production still depends on your stage team being able to get on with things quickly & efficiently. The team at Hawick were more than capable of doing their duties without giving any distraction to what was happening on stage and also did so quickly so that the shows pace and momentum were kept up. Often the great work of stage management teams and all those 'backstage' are left out in reviews like this so I thought I should make a special note to say well done to the crew at Hawick, and indeed to all the teams who have worked on the productions that we've seen this year so far. Your hard work definitely does not go unnoticed or unappreciated and it definitely helps us sleep at night knowing our sets are being cared for by such reliable hands! 

Anyhow - back to the production itself - we thought it was fantastic. I had been anticipating a great show but I had absolutely no idea as to just how strong the talent at Hawick AOS really is. There is great variety of different strengths and I felt that the main roles had an air of being seasoned, professional performers. 
The show had also been cast perfectly - I'm sure just by looking through the photos you'll be able to tell exactly who played who (despite the majority of them all wearing exactly the same Nun Habit costume!) and the leads all gave confident and authentic performances.

I had been nervous as to how Deloris would be played - the character is a confident, funny, feisty black woman much like Whoopi Goldberg's character in the original film, however here in the Scottish Borders we are (once again unlike the West End) severely lacking a variety of nationalities and ethnicities. Many in the same position could easily fall into the trap of just 'blacking up' but Ashley Wolf who played Deloris gave the role some guts and gave a brilliant performance - not just playing the feisty black woman but adding some personality & authenticity. She was very likeable and I definitely found myself rooting for the character to succeed and find her place amongst the convent. O
ne could even say she was 'Fabulous, Baby!' (I'm sorry, i'm sorry! I couldn't resist - what would this blog be without at least one dad joke?!)

Ashley is a very talented vocal performer who coped magnificently with the many musical numbers in the show. 'Take Me To Heaven' in particular was very catchy and I had it stuck in my head for a number of the days after the show....and now back again as I write this blog. She also had excellent comedic timing and excelled at portraying the extraverted, extravagant, bubbly diva that is Deloris without making her seem like she was a bit selfish or arrogant (there is a fine line!)

Of course, where would Deloris be without her sisters? 
Collectively all the actresses and the chorus who made up the nuns of the Queen of Angels church were brilliant - all of them played their various parts with plenty of enthusiasm and it was a very animated cast - even from those right at the back. All of the nuns had their own distinct characters and it was a pleasure to watch a cheekier, or even dare I say naughtier side of them come out as they embraced Deloris and her wild style.

Natalie Paterson had been perfectly cast as the very sweet Sister Mary Roberts. She had a lovely tone to her voice (thanks to that diploma in shower singing! I thought the cast member biographies in the programmes were a nice personal touch) and did very well in her portrayal of a character who overcomes her shyness over the course of the show. The overenthusiastic Sister Mary Patrick was played by the fantastic Amanda Blacklock, making the character very loveable and just the type of friend you want to have. She too has a fantastic singing voice and a very natural stage presence, she kept up her characters movements throughout the show and added little touches such as nodding her head which I felt perfectly fit the character and added that extra something. A personal favourite and one of the stand out stars of the show had to be Pamela Millan who played Sister Mary Lazarus. Sister Mary Lazarus would be my dream role to play - being both very grumpy and very hilarious. I'm not quite sure how Pamela was able to maintain her stony composure when delivering her lines in that growly voice but she did very well. Her comic timing was perfect and her part in 'Take Me To Heaven' was one of my favourite moments in the show. I'm looking forward to the next time I get to see 'Sister Act' performed so that I can see Sister Mary Lazarus again! 

Of course no flock of nuns would be complete without their Mother Superior, and Hawick's Mother Superior Marie McSherry gave a spectacular performance. The audience definitely saw the character's caring, nurturing side as she tried to protect her sisters and even as she argued with Deloris it was a clear that a mutual respect and love began to develop between the two characters. Marie and Ashley worked very well together - although their two characters are at odds for most of the show it wasn't portrayed in a nasty way and more like ying and yang. There was a bit of gentle teasing between them but I felt that it was clear that the two characters understood each other, embraced their differences and developed a mutual respect for one another. Marie McSherry also had a very clear, beautiful voice and her performances of 'I Haven't Got A Prayer' and 'Here Within These Walls' were very touching. 

However it wasn't just the nuns that inhabited the Queen of Angels church - they were also joined by Iain Scott as Monsignor O'Hara as well as a trio of choir 'boys'. Monsignor O'Hara is a great character to play and Iain was very very funny in the role and the choir boys had us all laughing as they brought out the totaliser like a couple of traditional game show assistants - as well as appearing with gurneys at a few well timed moments in the show! Churches are places of great peace but from watching the cast you kind of felt like the Queen of Angels church was actually a great, lively place to hang out - especially when Deloris entered the mix!
Opposite Deloris was her old school friend 'Sweaty Eddie' - who had become Lt Eddie Souther in the Philadelphia police force and was tasked with hiding Deloris so that she could testify against Curtis and his gang. Lt Eddie was played by Stuart Mitchell - who had also played 'Rooster' in Selkirk AOS's recent production of 'Annie'. (Read the blog here) Quite how Stuart managed to cope with rehearsals for not just one main part but two in two separate shows goes beyond me, however he is clearly a very gifted performer and he delivered fantastic performances in both. Lt Eddie was a very sweet character and you kind of felt sorry for him being stuck with the nickname 'Sweaty Eddie'. I realise that he is a fictional character but High School must have been tough. 

There were even more 'roles for men' amongst the villains of the musical - local Philadelphia gangster and nightclub owner Curtis Jackson, played by David Paterson and his accomplices Joey, TJ and Pablo - played by Craig McCredie, Richard Millan and Merijn Schepens. Curtis and his goon squad, despite being the bad guys, were very very likeable - a result of the funny and charismatic performances by all the actors. David Paterson had a real stage presence as Curtis, definitely making him a character that you wouldn't want to meet down a dark alley whilst Craig, Richard and Merijn were firm audience favourites with their comedic performances of the hapless gang. Their rendition of  'Lady In The Long Black Dress' was hilarious and energetic and they really engaged with the audience throughout the show, and they seemed to work very well together by bouncing off each other's energy and ramping it up. Looking through all the photos after the performance there are some great 'stills' of them all in character that really captured the mood of the show.

I was really surprised by just how good the cast at Hawick was, and I definitely think 'Sister Act' was the perfect show for them to do this year. They had cast it very well and it'll be difficult for me to see other people playing the parts - or indeed these actors playing different parts in the future. I'm certainly looking forward to seeing what they choose to put on next year, especially as Hawick has made some interesting choices in the past few years - choosing more modern musicals rather then relying on the traditional favourites. In fact all the local societies based near us in the Scottish Borders have made some great choices for their productions this year - my last blog looked at Gala AOS's production of Hairspray and my next one will be reviewing Kelso AOS's production of The Addams Family. In fact i've noticed that this year there has been a real shift with more societies looking to perform the 'freshly released' musicals - we've just ordered a whole stack of librettos to look through to make sure we're one step ahead for next year!

Anyway - as long as this blog already is, it just wouldn't do without mentioning our scenery and the fabulous costumes provided by Dress Circle Costumiers
Sister Act was quite a tricky show to design a set for as there are so many different scene changes that needed to be fast & slick - nor can it really be a large static set that makes clever use of different lighting or trucks which is a technique that's used for a lot of shows. We all agreed that we needed a few 'showstopper' cloths and from looking at the pictures I'm sure many of you will agree that we think we achieved this. In fact since the Hawick production we've had a whole flood of Sister Act enquiries coming in from all over the UK- many of them new customers who haven't worked with us before!

"The set design is nothing short
of spectacular"
The show also received some very positive and well deserved press attention - and we were very surprised and happy to see The Southern Reporters lovely comments about our set design. 
A lot of hard work and careful thought goes into all our shows so it's always nice for that work to be appreciated, and the feedback and response that we've received about our new set for Sister Act so far has been wonderful and given us all a big boost after what has been a few very busy, draining weeks. If you've got in touch to say how impressed you were then a big thank you to you all! 
As well as our scenery, we thought the costumes from Dress Circle Costumiers were absolutely marvellous - there were even audible ooh's from the audience as different costumes were revealed.
Particular favourites of mine were the beautiful nun's habits adorned with hearts, but I thought the bright colours of the jewel toned habits worked perfectly with our Cathedral cloth - Cloth No 0889 Cathedral Window Interior 2 (Enquire here!) If anyone is considering whether to perform Sister Act in the future then not only must you enquire with us but please do get in contact with the lovely folks at Dress Circle Costumiers too!

Overall this was simply a fantastic show - achieved not just by our wonderful scenery (I'm well aware that I'm overcooking the point a fair bit now)  and the beautiful costumes but by a brilliant cast and team that worked well together and had clearly put the hours in to deliver a very professional and polished production. A huge well done to everyone that was involved with Hawick AOS's production - and an especially big congratulations to Producer Brian McGlasson, Choreographer Anne Anderson and Musical Director Derek Calder (who made a surprise appearance as the Pope at the end!)

Written by Tamsin
Photo Credit: Rob Gray Photography & Alwyn Johnston

If you're thinking of doing 'Sister Act' for your next show then please get in touch to receive a full colour brochure of our plans and pictures.

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