Landi Oshinowo as Deloris Van Cartier. Picture: Mark Senior

Sister Act

Birmingham Hippodrome


My introduction to this story was via the 1992 film, starring Whoopi Goldberg as undercover nun Deloris, whose acting, comic and singing abilities defined the story. For this production Landi Oshinowo fills those night club singer come trainee nun boots.

The musical differs significantly from the film in narrative, script, characterisation, songs and score. Bafflingly, I will follow him is dropped, which is akin to dropping Don’t Cry for me Argentina from Evita.

On the night, the star is Alfie Parker as policeman Eddie Southern. His vocals steal the show, and his comic stage presence lights up the evening. Sue Cleaver’s Mother Superior is posh and restrained (light years away from her Coronation St persona Eileen Grimshaw) and an effective foil for the effervescent Oshinowo, but this production is about the ensemble, not the leads, as Parker, and Elliot Gooch as TJ, demonstrated.

The music is a curious affair. This is not a soul or gospel show, nor is it disco, pop or funk, but an idiosyncratic hybrid in which each of those forms are referenced, laden by in jokes, with Barry White and “funky weekend” amongst them. A live band in the pit, led by Tom Slade, are punchy and loud with Johnny Mayer’s bass laying down some impressive funky rhythms.

Numerous cameos entertain and impress from the ensemble. Julie Stark's Sister Mary Lazarus is whacky, Isabel Canning's Sister Mary Patrick is a strong comic turn and Eloise Runnette's Sister Mary Robert, who finds herself as the show evolves, delivers a superb second half solo. The boys have their moment as the hoodlums with their singing trio in the second act.

The stage set, by Morgan Large is framed by a giant outer stained glass clock face enabling scene changes to be established with props only, making it both imposing and extremely functional.

I found the first act a little chaotic, but the second act came alive dramatically and musically, with Director Bill Buckhurst pulling out all the stops for a barnstorming finale which must have quadrupled the costume budget. There is a limit to what you can do with a troop of singing nuns in black habits, and choreographer Alistair David combines eye catching routines, with sparkly costumes and a Studio 54 vibe to provide a killer finish which had a full house on its feet on an unseasonably wet and dank Monday evening opening night. The audience loved it, very much a case of “Sisters are doing it for themselves.”

Runs until Saturday 18th may and continues on nationwide tour.

Gary Longden


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