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Feel-good musical Sister Act comes to Cambridge Corn Exchange

Highlights 7/12
Highlights 7/12

Sister Act, the feel-good musical comedy based on the hit 1992 film that had audiences jumping to their feet, bursts onto the Cambridge stage this week.

Taking on the lead role of Deloris Van Cartier – a sassy singer who witnesses a gangland murder and is placed out of harm’s way in a convent – is Joanna Francis, who has recently finished performing in the West End production of The Lion King.

Under protective custody, Deloris is hidden in the one place she won’t be found – a convent. Disguised as a nun and under the suspicious watch of Mother Superior, Deloris helps her fellow sisters find their voices as she unexpectedly rediscovers her own.

Channelling her inner Deloris, Joanna told the Cambridge Independent that she’s enjoying getting into the habit.

“I have enjoyed it immensely,” she said. “We’ve been playing to practically sell-out audiences and they’ve been very receptive so we’re hugely blessed.”

Sister Act The Musical is directed and choreographed by Strictly Come Dancing’s Craig Revel Horwood and is on stage at Cambridge Corn Exchange until Saturday as part of a UK tour.

Based on the smash hit movie starring Whoopi Goldberg and Maggie Smith, Sister Act features original music by Tony and eight-time Oscar winner Alan Menken, dazzling dance routines and songs inspired by Motown, soul and disco.

Joanna explained: “The show is actually quite different to the film, but the storyline is still the same. It’s filled with so much energy and has such a fun factor about it. The storyline is so unique, it’s not something you expect to see – a disco diva in a convent. It adds a new dimension to the plot.

“The detail that has gone into this show is incredible.

“With this because it’s a musical there are things that would have been spoken in the film but are sung in this production by the cast.

“It’s the same music as the film but it’s amazing and brought to life by the cast – it’s a real treat.”

The theatre spin-off has been a Broadway and West End hit, so a lot is riding on the shoulders of those taking it on the road.

“I think the difficult thing about it, because it’s such a huge role, is that you’re on stage all of the time and when you’re not on stage you’re changing to go back onto stage,” Joanna explained. “That part of the role is difficult, but when you’re actually on stage you’re having so much fun that you don’t really realise how hard it is.

“You must put yourself in the moment – and you also get so much from the other cast members. There isn’t any time to think of the difficulty being on. In fact, sometimes for me, that’s better because you have more of a journey with the character.

“Because she’s constantly on stage you get to share that journey with her, and feel her emotions. You have an arch with your character and by the end of it be like, ‘Wow that’s who she was and who she has become and I know everything that’s happened in the middle’.”

She continued: “She’s very light in the first act and by the time you get to the second act, it’s much more emotional because she’s torn apart. She is forced to come to grips with the fact that she needs love, people and support.

“A lot of the second act pulls at your heartstrings and comes away from the comic side that you see in the first act.”

The show is filled with so much energy and has such a fun factor about it, explained Joanna, as musicians perform on stage alongside the actors.

“Watching him (Craig Revel Horwood) weave together people who are actor/singers and people who are singers/musicians and people who are singers/dancers was incredible. I’m standing beside someone who is playing the saxophone or singing next to someone playing the violin.

“It does inject a lot of life into it. To hear the instrument next to you – and I’m hearing the line that they’re playing – fills me with so much joy. It’s a great, amazing thing to be a part of.” she said. “I’ve never experienced anything like that. It was an incredible thing to watch – how the mind of someone works who has to put all the pieces of the puzzle together.

“I feel incredibly blessed and overwhelmed that I got the chance to witness that in the rehearsal room and to stand on stage and say ‘I’m a part of this’. I feel very blessed,” Joanna added.

Also starring the show is Jon Robyns, who takes on the role of Eddie and boasts previous parts in the likes of Les Miserables, Legally Blonde, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Memphis.

Joanna is also joined in the show by Rosemary Ashe, who plays Sister Mary Lazarus and has a CV encompassing some of the biggest shows in the West End, including Phantom Of The Opera, Les Misérables, The Witches of Eastwick, Mary Poppins and Oliver!.

Joanna, whose other credits include Carmen Jones at the Royal Festival Hall, The Harder They Come at the Barbican and Stratford East and playing Sybil in The Big Life at the Apollo Theatre, added: “Get your ticket as soon as possible, you definitely will not be disappointed. It’s an extraordinary show and it would be a shame to miss it.”

Sister Act is showing until Saturday. Tickets: £25.50-£40. Box office: 01223 357851 or cambridgelivetrust.co.uk.

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