Musical review: Sister Act

You don't think of Alexandra Burke as being an anarchic performer. What people love about the winner of The X Factor is her precision and control. As a singer and dancer, she has excellent technique '“ not to mention a fine pair of lungs and a readiness to look the audience in the eye.

Alexandra Burke really is a tremendous focal point, and she gets on with doing what she does best
Alexandra Burke really is a tremendous focal point, and she gets on with doing what she does best

Playhouse, Edinburgh ***

She’s no maverick, but a polished, 21st-century entertainer. And that makes her an odd fit in the early stages of this musical adaptation of Sister Act.

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She plays the part of Deloris Van Cartier, the Philadelphia nightclub singer with underworld connections, who becomes an inadvertent witness to murder. On the run from the mob, she is squirrelled away in the only place the police think is safe for her: a Catholic convent which, conveniently, is in dire need of a choir leader.

The joke is she’s a square peg in a round hole, a hard-drinking, fast-living player in the pleasure industry who appears to have nothing in common with the demure nuns and their modest appetites. Played by Burke, there’s no question she sticks out in the echoing chambers of the convent, but her manner is less streetwise than plain eccentric. The role of the sassy and exuberant outsider feels stapled on, something she’s learnt with characteristic diligence but not a natural part of her armoury.

It’s only as the story kicks in and we realise she’s not as wild as the sisters suppose, nor are they as straitlaced as convention suggests, that things settle down and she can get on with the business of doing what she does best. And once that happens, she really is a tremendous focal point, both commanding and generous, a team player who still leads from the front.

Performed by actor-musicians with instruments on stage, Craig Revel Horwood’s production is at its strongest in the big musical numbers, whether it be the glorious cacophony of the choir of nuns before Deloris arrives or the all-hands-on-deck Philadelphia soul of the finale. The score is an uneven mix of upbeat disco numbers and more typical musical fare, but there are strong solos from, for example, Joe Vetch as love interest Eddie and Aaron Lee Lambert as gangster Curtis. If some of the performers play it too broad to be funny, there are those, such as Karen Mann as Mother Superior, who stand out for being equally at home acting and singing.

Until 15 April