Alan Menken, Glenn Slater, Cheri & Bill Steinkellner
Jamie Wilson, Kevin McCollum, Gavin Kalin, Robbie Wilson & Curve
Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham
It's 1970-something in downtown Philadelphia and aspiring singer Deloris Van Cartier (Landi Oshinowo) has high hopes. Her gangster boyfriend Curtis (Ian Gareth-Jones) has a nightclub and has made empty promises about introductions with a producer. That’s until she witnesses a murder and police chief Eddie Southern (Alfie Parker) places her under protective custody.
And where better to hide a nightclub singer than in a convent? Nobody’s going to look there, right? It’s upon this premise that the plot of Sister Act—A Divine Musical Comedy perhaps rather thinly hangs. The 1992 film was a smash hit for Whoopi Goldberg, but while she certainly had the acting creds, my bet is she didn’t possess a set of pipes on her like Oshinowo. Cos gurrrrl, she can sing. Alan Menken’s funky score marries gospel with Philadelphia soul, and boy, am I here for it. When my eyes weren’t distracted by the deliberately terrible fashion (we all know the seventies was the decade that taste forgot), or blinded by the glare of sequins, when she sang, I couldn’t take my eyes off her.
If anyone were to steal the limelight from Delores, however, it might well be Sister May Robert (Lizzie Bea) who well and truly hides her light under a bushel until absolutely belting it out during "Raise Your Voice".
Lesley Joseph as Mother Superior is born to the role, despite my fond memories of her famous long-term stint as Dorien in BBC sitcom Birds of a Feather, and our cursory guess at her age was out by a full decade as her comedic timing and singing during "Here Within These Walls" were both effortless and an absolute joy.
Cringe came in the form of Curtis, Joey, TJ and Pablo (Gareth-Jones, Callum Martin, Bradley Judge and Damian Buhagiar) channelling The Delfonics with their sinister love song "When I Find My Baby"—“I’m gonna shoot that girl! And then I’ll stab that girl!” which made for some awkward chuckling in the stalls.
And a special mention to the lovable Eddie (Parker), who immaculately pulls off not one but two ‘rip it off’ on-stage costume manoeuvres while atop his desk, which was genuinely hilarious—followed by his reverse awkward descent to the safety of the stage. What I particularly liked was the representation of normal body types on stage: people of all sizes singing and dancing, often in deliberately unflattering costumes, without it being a 'thing'. Which is, of course, how it should be. But it matters to those of us built for comfort, not speed, and it was reassuring to see that musical theatre has moved on.
Sister Act doesn't to take itself seriously and is never more than one step away from acknowledging that this is a camp, comedy caper. It's twinkly, infectious musical theatre for music's sake and it really delivers.
The show continues its two-week run at Cheltenham before heading to Cardiff and onwards around the UK and Ireland, right up until this time next year, finishing in Liverpool.
Reviewer: Rachael Duggan