Power and glory to the Sisters

 Sister Act

Birmingham Hippodrome

*****

IT IS big, brash and irreverent but most of all it is great fun and looks and feels like a top West End show should.

The stage show is based on the 1992 Whoopi Goldberg film and although faithful to that it is no tribute show – whether you have seen the film matters not a jot, this is a show big enough to stand on its own two feet.

For those who do not know the plot Deloris is a would-be nightclub singer and girlfriend of club owner and neighbourhood mobster Curtis Jackson played with tongue-in-cheek arrogant disdain by Cavin Cornwall who displays a fine Motown style baritone.

When Deloris sees Curtis murder a suspected informant in cold blood she flees to the police who decide to hide her where Curtis will never think of looking – in a convent.

Cynthia Erivo as Deloris Van Cartier, the sister hiding from her murdering mister, may be small but she has a big voice and a huge personality belting out songs as if born for centre stage whether it is soul numbers, disco or more tender ballads such as Sister Act itself.

Showgirl meets staid mother superior, played with delicious deadpan humour by ex-Coronation Street star Denise Black, is a clash to savour but God moves in mysterious ways his works to perform as they say, or perhaps in this case they sing remarkably badly.

Joey (Daniel Stockton), Pablo (Gavin Alex)and TJ (Tyrone Huntley) explain how to impress a woman

With a different key for each chorister the sound from the Convent choir is truly awful in a feat that must have taken hours of rehearsal . On top of that the church authorities are about to sell the ailing church with its handful of parishioners – until Deloris appears takes the choir in hand and turns them into Philadelphia's singing sensation. Their fame spreads so far they even get a visit from the Pope – who it seems ekes out his stipend with a bit of conducting in his spare time.

Amid the nuns we have Julie Atherton as Sister Mary Robert, the shy postulate, who does not know she has a voice made in heaven until Deloris unleashes her on the world then there is Michael Starke as Monsignor O'Hara who changes from staid church administrator to boogying  on down the aisle under the power of Deloris.

Devotion and disco is a winning combination so the congregation floods back and the church is saved.

Trying to take out Deloris though we have Curtis's soldiers, Pablo (Gavin Alex), Joey (Daniel Stockton) and TJ (Tyrone Huntley) who provide not only plenty of laughs but a remarkably slick backing for Curtis in When I find My Baby as well as a classy Lady in the Long Back Dress on their own with all the Motown moves you could ask for – Four Tops eat your heart out.

Protecting our secret sister against them is officer Eddie Souther, played by Edward Baruwa, who is an ex-schoolmate and admirer and still has a crush on her. He wants desperately to be a cool guy  and his I could be that guy with the down and outs of south Philly is one of the highlights with two of the slickest, fastest costume changes you are likely to see from cop to Saturday Night Fever back to cop all in the wink of an eye – and a few strips of Velcro.

Dearly beloved . . . and all that jazz . . . from Michael Starke as Monsignor O'Hara

It all comes to a head the trio of henchmen disguise themselves as nuns to find and kill Deloris but the sisters are a formidable force and see off the threat of Pablo, Joey and TJ to give us the final showdown when Eddie saves Deloris from Curtis – all in time to put on their glittering show for His Holiness.

There were also notable performances from Jacqueline Clarke as Sister Mary Lazarus and Laurie Scarth as Sister Mary Patrick.

A mention too for  the 12 piece band who are a class act in their own right under Musical Director Andrew Hilton and a clever set from Klara Zieglerova which gave us seamless scene changes from nightclub to Police HQ to Gothic convent to neon church without any hint of a break in the action.

And there is plenty of action with director Jerry Zaks keeping up a cracking pace – helped by a diet of disco to keep things moving along.

It is silly, lightweight, has little in the way of characterisation, can't manage a song likely to become a standard but what the heck; it is five star, gold plated fun, got a standing ovation and the audience left with a smile on their face and chattering away about how they had enjoyed it – and that's entertainment. The sisters are on the end of their run so this is the last chance for salvation. To 20-10-12.

Roger Clarke 

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