The curtains have closed on yet another extremely successful Royal School Dungannon theatrical production. This year, from 7th-10th November, audiences were transported to a world of habits and humour by the divine musical comedy ‘Sister Act!’, based on the 1992 hit film featuring Whoopi Goldberg. The hall was filled with cheer and laughter, selling out the majority of nights and receiving a standing ovation for every performance.

The tale begins on Christmas Eve in 1977 at a disco nightclub in Philadelphia. Club singer Deloris Van Cartier, a role executed phenomenally by Dion Di Maio, and her two energetic back-ups (Katie Chambers and Rebecca Rocha Elliott) are performing in front of an empty house. Van Cartier’s boyfriend Curtis Jackson, chillingly portrayed by Stephen Black, owns the nightclub. Deloris is overjoyed as she believes her boyfriend is going to allow her to perform for the public at his club. She soon learns however that this is not to be. Jackson tells her he cannot join her for Christmas Day but gives her a coat which she discovers belonged to his wife. Hurt and frustrated she decides to break up with Jackson. When she happens to witness Jackson and his crew murder someone accused of ‘squealing’ to the cops, she becomes terrified. Deloris promptly runs away as Jackson orders his men to get her and bring her back.

Sometime later Deloris runs into a police station and tells the desk chief, Eddie, what has happened. Eddie is portrayed with comic charm, by St Patrick’s Academy pupil Finn McKeever. The two recognise each other as old friends from school, with Deloris calling him ‘Sweaty Eddie’. Eddie decides that Deloris needs to go into the ‘witness protection program’ and sends her to the place he believes Jackson will never find her: a convent! When Deloris arrives, she is disappointed to learn from the no-nonsense Mother Superior, played with aplomb by Hannah Ferguson, that contact with the outside world is limited and that she cannot smoke, drink or wear any of her less-than-appropriate clothing.

Deloris joins the other nuns for dinner and is introduced as Sister Mary Clarence. After several comedic interactions with the overly perky Sister Mary Patrick, hilariously depicted by Beth Weir, and the sarcastic Sister Mary Lazarus, played with more comic skill by Bebhinn Elliott-Murphy, Deloris discovers just how much her life will be limited as a nun through the song “It’s Good to Be a Nun”, which was performed with gusto and great comic timing by our core group of nuns. Meanwhile, back in his nightclub, Jackson is frustrated that he cannot find Deloris anywhere. He tells his bungling comic trio of thugs: Joey, TJ and Pang, played superbly by Odo Pang, Alex Talbot and Matthew Green, how he will not stop until he finds and kills Deloris. The darkly amusing song ‘When I Find My Baby’ was delivered superbly by Stephen.

Back at the convent, feeling bored and hungry, Deloris goes across the street to a slinky bar and is followed by Sister Mary Patrick and Sister Mary Robert, a shy and quiet nun, skillfully portrayed by Emily Carson. When the two nuns arrive, they see how fun things can be outside of the convent. However, Deloris recognizes Joey, TJ and Pang at a table. Suddenly there is a fight involving a drag queen, giving Deloris, Sister Mary Patrick and Sister Mary Robert a chance to escape. Eddie and Mother Superior meet them back at the convent. Mother Superior confronts Deloris, telling her that she must conform to the life of the nuns, later limiting her activities to working with the far from tuneful convent choir. Eddie reveals that Jackson’s men very nearly captured Deloris at the bar, so she needs to be careful. Eddie, now alone with only the drunks and homeless on the street, privately reflects on his desire to just let go and impress Deloris with a smooth song “I Could Be That Guy”. This song featured a particularly tricky double costume change, for which the Costumes Committee can be particularly proud, as well as a skillful vocal performance by Finn McKeever.

The following morning, Deloris attends the choir practice and realises how bad the situation is. Deloris offers to teach them, taking over from Sister Mary Lazarus. Deloris teaches the nuns how to sing in key and on time in an uplifting song “Raise Your Voice”. That Sunday the choir performs a rousing, up-tempo hymn “Take Me to Heaven”. Both of these songs allowed Dion to really display her powerful, show-stopping vocals. Mother Superior is horrified at how the simple, traditional choir she knew has changed and become modern.

Later, during a stunning song “Sunday Morning Fever”, Monsignor O’Hara, who was portrayed with natural charm by local movie star James Stockdale, bursts in with exciting news: the choir has been asked to perform a special concert in front of the Pope. Deloris is thrilled but also foolhardy; Jackson and his goons have spotted Deloris with the choir on the television accepting the invitation. Jackson orders his henchmen to get into the convent and bring Deloris back. This led to one of the highlights of the show, the song ‘Lady in the Long Black Dress’, which actually caused some staff members to cry with laughter. Matthew, Odo and Alex deserve great credit for pulling off their hilarious routine whilst still staying on key. Meanwhile, Mother Superior prays to God, asking why he has given her the challenge that is ‘Deloris’. The bittersweet song “Haven’t Got a Prayer” offered a lovely change of pace and tone and was delivered beautifully by Hannah on each night of the show.

Deloris is approached by the nuns before they go to sleep, asking her to lead them in prayer for their show for the Pope on the following day. Mother Superior arrives shortly thereafter and informs Deloris that the court date for Jackson has been moved up to the next day and she must leave immediately. The other nuns overhear and Deloris is forced to tell them the truth about who she really is and that she cannot perform with them. She receives a poignant, biblical farewell from the often delusional nun, Mary Martin of Tours, played impressively by Aimee Johnston. As Deloris prepares to leave, Sister Mary Robert begs to come with her, claiming that she has been inspired to become a stronger person and go after the things she wants. She sings the touching ‘Life I Never Led’, which Emily delivered in an emotive and melodic manner.

Deloris runs from the convent and stays at Eddie’s house for the night. While there, she is initially overjoyed that, the following day, she will testify against Jackson and his boys to go back to pursuing the career she’s dreamed of. Feeling immense guilt for abandoning her sisters, she realises that the choices she is making will leave her with nothing but fame and money. During the song ‘Sister Act’, she decides to return to the convent and sing with her sisters. This song allowed Dion to stunningly display her full range as both a singer and an actress.

Dressed as nuns, Jackson, Joey, TJ and Pang sneak into the convent. They find and chase Deloris. Deloris eventually runs into Jackson, leading to a final confrontation. Jackson demands that Deloris to get on her knees and beg for her life. However, all the sisters run in unafraid. They stand in front of her, telling Jackson that he will have to go through them first. Jackson is about to start firing at the nuns when Eddie comes in and fights Jackson off. He arrests Jackson and his boys. He and Deloris then share a passionate embrace. Mother Superior and Deloris come to a truce and agree to accept each other. As the curtain begins to fall, we transition to the performance in front of the Pope as the nuns stand in unison with their voices ringing in harmony. This led to a rousing finale from the whole cast and a reprise of ‘Take me to Heaven’, which had the audience springing to their feet and clapping along enthusiastically.

A huge mention of well done music go to all of the cast involved in bringing this production to life, including the actors; costume team led by Mrs Chambers and Mrs Kerr; make-up team led by Miss McCombe and Mrs McGurk; the set construction and design led by Mr David Johnston, Mr Canning, Mrs Clingan and Mrs Best; the sound team led by Conor Bindon and Andrew Lamont, with oversight from Mr McGuinness; back stage led by Emma McFarland and Paddi Matthews, with oversight from Mrs Matthews; and directors Mr Cuddy and Mr McDowell. We must also say farewell to Mr Boyd, who will be leaving us in December. This was the last production in Royal School Dungannon he will be involved in as a Musical Director, he will be greatly missed!

Reported by Bebhinn Elliott-Murphy and Aimee Johnston (Year 13)

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