“Check the notes…” Craig Revel Horwood is playfully scolding me down the phone. Well, he might be… I’m not quite sure. What I do know is I’ve drifted into a dead-end in our interview. It might be Saturday morning and I’m sat at home in my trackies, but the Sister Act director and choreographer isn’t entertaining anything less than an ‘A-game’ today. In my mind, I’m Ore Oduba – however it appears I’ve drifted more towards Ed Balls. So, let’s step it up and move along.
Right now, Revel Horwood is travelling over to Elstree for another day of Strictly Come Dancing filming. He’s obviously quite pleased with the praise his stage production of Sister Act has received. “It’s been fantastic. The audience have been loving it, with standing ovations every night.” Touring the UK until well into next year, and hitting the Brighton Centre on Weds 11 – Sat 14 Jan, his show reinvents a well-loved classic with liberal doses of song, movement and colour.
Taking the lead as aspiring singer Deloris Van Cartier is award-wining recording artist, Alexandra Burke. In addition to a commanding stage presence and massive voice, the X-Factor star also reveals a talent for comic acting. “She is absolutely incredible. People know her as a singer, but she really is a fine actress and she’s really grown into the part.” Burke adds even more energy to a mesmerising show, which sizzles with heartfelt moments and show-stopping routines. The narrative follows her character’s troubles with a shady boyfriend. After witnessing him murder an associate, our heroine takes refuge in a convent. While there is some troubled adjustment to this monastic environment, she soon connects with the sisters through their music.
The killer blow for Sister Act lands by presenting a cast who also play instruments as they dance around the stage. The dynamic spectacle elevates the show above almost anything you’ve previously seen or expected. “If you can imagine a whole bunch of nuns in a conga playing trumpets, trombones and accordions – it’s a thing of wonder.” The effect further emphasises the vibrancy of composer Alan Menken’s original score. This is arguably becoming Revel Horwood’s motif, having used similar staging for Sunset Boulevard, Spend Spend Spend and Copacabana. “What’s great about it is the audience get to see an orchestral concert at the same time as witnessing the show itself.” Another difference is the show’s transplantation into the 70s. The bold glamour of the disco era sweeps across the stage like reflected light from a glitter ball.
Beyond Sister Act, Revel Horwood is readying for a busy panto season. Soon he’ll be playing Hook in Peter Pan for six days a week, at Bromley’s Churchill Theatre. After Christmas, comes the task of directing the Strictly tour, as well as a few other TV projects. You could say he’s keeping busy. “I like it because it doesn’t always feel like work. I’m improvising a lot, it’s not like 9-5 and typing the same paragraph over and over again. I’m out and about and doing stuff. Every day is a delight.” Away from his ‘Saturday job’ is a schedule which many people would baulk at. He does concede if there was a “husband or something like that” slowing down might be a possibility. But for now, the diary is bulging.
He’s been with Strictly Come Dancing since its start in 2004, learning Latin and ballroom at head judge Len Goodman’s dance school to sharpen his expertise. Since then he’s become celebrated for an analytical eye and impassive critique. Some of his comments about hapless celebrities incite adverse reactions in the studio, but they can also applaud the strangest things. “It’s odd how the audience react. But it doesn’t bother me and it becomes panto.” Sometimes people simply like a little bit of interaction. Even if it is just clapping.
By nature of its status and need for publicity, every facet of the hit TV series has become a source of speculation. Both on and off-screen, the smallest incident or remark barges its way into the papers. “Journalists have to make a living, so they bombast and lionise absolutely everything. I know how it works now, so I generally feed it to them and everyone gets paid. I do quite like all of that – what journalists do with your words, how they extract them and make them sensational.” Overall, he finds the circus surrounding him and the show rather amusing, surmising that if there’s no salacious gossip to uncover the press will make something up.
However you perceive Revel Horwood’s TV persona, it doesn’t appear to be a pretence. Whichever platform he’s working with, it’s treated with the same professional manner. You don’t become respected within the theatre and opera communities by settling for second-best. “I’m just saying what the public thinks and hopefully enlightening the celebrity so they don’t come back and make the same mistakes again,” he says. “In the theatre, we call them notes. I go out there to encourage, like I do with all my artists. The difference, of course, between Strictly and what I do for a living is that I get to cast really talented people.” He makes the point that everyone is different out of office hours, but his attitude remains the same wherever he works. Even on television. “For me it’s not a love-fest, I’m there to do a job. I’m there to criticise something in 20 secs. Succinct, to the point, get on with it…”