The sisterhood: Lesley Joseph, as Mother Superior and, in bed, Deloris, Sandra Marvin surrounded by the nuns of the convent. Pictures: Manuel Harlan

Sister Act

Birmingham Hippodrome


It’s slick, bursting with life and oodles of fun, with some great singing, a story with a heart – it even sports the youngest Pope since *Benedict IX! It’s a night of rock solid entertainment.

Sister Act, set at Christmas 1977, has been filling theatre pews since its Pasadena days in 2006, hitting the big time in the West End in 2009 and then Broadway two years later and this new production adds a new dusting of pizzazz to the party.

Sandra Marvin is a larger than life Deloris Van Cartier, the lounge singer with attitude, a big personality and an even bigger voice whether its a disco number such as Take Me To Heaven or the eponymous ballad, Sister Act.

Her less than stellar club career goes on hold though when she is put in witness protection after being a witness to a murder.

Now the ideal place to hide a feisty singer with a penchant for night clubs, Philly cheese steaks, booze, cigarettes and the like is . . . a nunnery?

In this case the aptly named Our Lady of Perpetual Sorrow where a sorrowful dwindling group of nuns are under the heavenly(ish) charms of the Mother Superior, played by Lesley Joseph.

One suspects Dorien would not have been Rome’s first choice as a Mother Superior but Miss Joseph brings her own particular charm to the role. She may not get a call anytime soon from the WNO for her singing, getting by by largely talking her way through her numbers, which worked a treat, but she brings her own distinct brand of acerbic wit and splendid timing to the cause. 


Clive Rowe as Steady Eddie

Installing Deloris in the convent is Philadelphia Police Department’s finest, Eddie Souther, played by Clive Rowe. Steady Eddie had the hots for Deloris when they were in high school together and the flame is still flickering.

Eddie is quiet, unassuming, one might even say boring – until he sings and Mr Cellophane is no more. Rowe has a fabulous baritone and his I Could be That Guy starts as a sad ballad, morphing, along with his costumes into disco, then back to a boring steady Eddie reality.

When it comes to voices Lizzie Bea as postulant Sister Mary Robert takes some beating. Her The Life I Never Led is a showstopper with a last perfect high note seemingly ringing out forever. Voice control to die for.

Head cleric on the side of the goodies is Graham MacDuff as Monsignor O’Hara who slowly switches from ecclesiastical crimson to more Saturday Night Fever disco sequins as Deloris gets the convent choir into order.

This was a choir that were probably passable until someone invented tunes which left them sounding like a group of cats being neutered without anaesthetic.

Just one scene and one song and Deloris has them singing like the disco version of the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge – eat your heart out Gareth Malone.

sister Mary Robert

Lizzie Bea as Sister Mary Robert

If you have goodies you have to have baddies, so enter Jeremy Secomb as Curtis Jackson, the mob boss the Philly police have been after for years. Mind you, you would have thought he could have been arrested long ago for the suit alone!

He makes the mistake of shooting one of his gang who he thinks has grassed him up to the police. The mistake was being seen doing it by Deloris hiding nearby.

Deloris is his girlfriend, or from his married point of view, bit on the side, but neither love nor lust count when it comes to possible witnesses, so a hit is ordered to ensure Deloris’s silence.

And that leads into When I Find My Baby when Curtis tells us how he is going to take Deloris out, vicious murder being an obvious subject of course for . . . disco?

And if it’s disco how about a Four Tops style backing group, or in this case more a Three Nearer the Bottom backing group made up of Curtis’s three henchmen.

There is his nephew TJ, played by Bradley Judge, great fun and laughs a lot, held back by an IQ that struggles to reach double figures; Joey, played by Tom Hopcroft, who sees himself as God’s gift to women, presumably a present given to women God doesn’t like very much; and Pablo played by Damian Buhagiar, who speaks in Spanish, lots of it, so we have no idea what he thinks – but the ladies did seem to like it when he ripped his shirt open.

The trio are great fun with their own number, Lady in the Long Black Dress, or in this case a bloke in jeans mopping the floor, providing another comedy highlight.

Everything is supported by a hard-working cast, who even provide a fleeting visit of a remarkably young looking Pope.

Mob boss Curtis with his backing group, Pablo, TJ and Joey

The nun’s ensemble is a dream, nun better you might say, let’s call them The Wimplettes, displaying good voices with a wonderful range of characters. They are fun and manage the not easy task of singing excruciatingly tunelessly brilliantly switching to full harmony as a real choir or disco divas with style.

Morgan Large’s set is simple but effective with a series of horseshow shaped arches which, with Tim Mitchell’s lighting, can be stained glass, city lights or disco. A sliding panel at the back, along with drops from the flies can provide disco, cloisters, a church, all changed without a break in the action helping to keep up a non-stop pace zipping the show along.

Tom Mashall’s sound is well balanced complimenting a fine eight piece orchestra under musical director Neil MacDonald. The Lyrics are from Glenn Slater, who has School of Rock in his CV while the book is Cheri and Bill Steinkellner, who wrote and produced Cheers, so the pedigree is there.

The original film was back in 1992, starring Whoopi Goldberg, who is one of the producers of this new production which has added a few contemporary lines and extra sparkle to a show about friendship, sisterhood, heart and redemption. The plot has holes you could pass a cathedral through but then again this isn’t meant to be Ibsen, it’s pure escapism, forget your troubles, sit back and enjoy. What more could you ask? To 15-10-22.

Roger Clarke


*Nothing whatsoever to do with Sister Act, but Pope Benedict IX was Pope three times between 1032 and 1048, the only man to be Pope more than once. He first became Pope aged 20, some say he was only 12, winning the election thanks to his father’s support, or as we would call it, extensive bribery.  

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