It has been a long time since Manchester Musical Youth’s (MMY) apprentices got to shine on the Z-Arts stage, so tonight was a personal joy to be back in the auditorium to witness a triumphant return with their latest production of Sister Act Jr.
Sometimes, for me junior versions of full-scale shows seem cut too short and the story suffers because of this. I get the idea behind these versions and the opportunities it gives young performers, but tonight’s version of Sister Act did not seem to suffer from this, albeit some of the story was rushed.
One thing MMY does better than most is find and cultivate young talent, many of which in previous years have gone on to some of the best theatre schools in the country and even the West End. Tonight, was no different as two young actors shone bright in a galaxy of stars.
First of all, if you haven’t seen Sister Act before the show follows Deloris Van Cartier who becomes a witness to her boyfriend murdering an associate and runs to the Police to report the crime. The Police place Deloris into witness protection at the local convent where despite their differing backgrounds strong bonds and friendships are made with the nuns.
When I write these reviews, I dearly want to name and comment on every person on the stage, but sadly there are just too many to mention without dividing this review up into chapters. Director Shannon Wild is blessed with so many talented performers and uses them well throughout.
In a female heavy cast, the boys really stand out. Charlie Lockett provides menace as gangster Curtis supported by his fellow gangsters Pablo (Aidan Paddison), Joey (Ewan Paddison) and the hilarious Seb Downing as TJ. Charlie France as “Sweaty” Eddie sang his solo number I Could Be That Guy with confidence complete with a plethora of backing dancers.
In the convent, both Jasmine Kennedy and Freya Gow give assured performances as Mother Superior and Monsignor O’Hara respectively.
Whenever I see Sister Act, I always look out for two of my favourite characters, who for me are the most fun, and I imagine a joy to play. Amelia Valentine (Sister Mary Patrick) and Phoebe Blakeman (Sister Mary Lazarus) certainly didn’t disappoint and provided many laughs throughout the show.
Amongst this sea of stars, two stood out for me. First of all, Sister Mary Robert is the young Postulant just starting her religious journey and is quiet, shy and lacks confidence in herself until Deloris arrives and she slowly finds her confidence through music. Francesca Ballard plays this role to perfection, her acting matched her voice which is mature beyond her years, I have a feeling I will be seeing this young lady on stages for many years to come.
Last, but definitely not least is Sarah Ali who quite literally stole the show as Deloris. Her powerful vocals filled the theatre with ease, and it was clear she had spent a long time perfecting the mannerisms of Deloris with hair flicks and facial expressions a plenty. It is difficult to believe she has only just turned 12 years old and not inconceivable to see her playing Deloris at a professional level in the future. Astounding!
Musical Director Kimberly Holden has clearly worked hard with this cast on their vocal performances and Lauren Owen provides some impressive choreography for the ensemble to get their teeth into which is executed confidently.
Sister Act Jr is a total success from start to finish.
MMY return to Z-Arts next month when their graduates take on The Addams Family and the main group return in July 2022 with The Hunchback of Notre Dame. I for one cannot wait! For more information on both these shows visit http://www.manchestermusicalyouth.co.uk/
Reviewer: Paul Downham
Reviewed: 15th October 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★★