CentralDramaMusicalReview

Sister Act – Birmingham Hippodrome

Reviewer: John Kennedy

Music: Alan Menkin

Lyrics: Glenn Slater

Book: Cheri Steinkellner and Bill Steinkellner

Director: Bill Buckhurst

Philadelphian gangster moll, Deloris Van Cartier, has ideas to spread her prodigious soul-funk gospel lounge diva career wings to higher ground. Casting-central cliched gangster, Curtis Jackson (Jeremy Secomb) has other ideas. Not least bumping off a snitch; inevitably witnessed by Deloris conveniently hiding behind a dumpster, soon to be a makeshift coffin. Deloris, in her kitschy Christmas present purple fur stole high tails to the cops. 

Guess what? Long time hots for Deloris, Officer, ‘Steady-Eddie’ Souther, a ballistically brilliant Clive Rowe, is on desk duty. There’s more to lonesome, unrequited Eddie than meets the eye. He has a surprise up his sleeves – literally – having made set and costume Designer, Morgan Large’s impossible concept dreams come true.

There’s a cross-town termination contract out on Deloris to prevent her witness-stand fingering, the now murder suspect, Curtis. Solution? Conceal her in a convent, coming exposition-convenient with a leaking roof and threatened deconsecration and closure. Cue crabby Mother – in all matters sacred and profane – Superior, aka Lesley Joseph. She’s no longer a stranger to the conveniences of a senior bus pass, but, praise the Lord, can she belt out the formulaic songs with spring-lamb of God gusto. Together with affecting a pious prayer soliloquy conceit enabling her to shamelessly one-liner, rim-shot work the audience, it works a prayer.  Pray tell it to The Sisters – they’re about to do it for themselves.

Whoopi Goldberg may have patented the kick-ass sass role in the Oscar-laden 1992 film but, stand aside Sister, there’s a new seismic sensation in the neighbourhood and Sandra Marvin’s run-away freight-train-subtle Deloris is about to seize the role by its Philadelphian fun horns and quite possibly own it forever.

Musical director/conductor, Neil MacDonald baton-lashes the band along wringing every Disco-Funk beat and ersatz Angelus with breathtaking brio. In Eddie’s fantasia dreams he is astonishingly transformed in an instant from sweatycop uniform to glitter-ballsy, camp superstar – and in a blink of an eye, back again. How do they do that? Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother pumpkin trick? Get over yourself.

All of this is of course incidental to the main thrust being the aforementioned Morgan Large’s outstanding Gothic sets and backdrop tableau. The proscenium arch becomes a beguiling fusion of stained-glass matrix and Frodo Baggins’ rune-woven front door. Sister Act does what it says on the chalice. It’s all deliciously ephemeral, feel-good fun with a comedic panache almost on a par with the real(?)-life antics unfolding at the across-town Party Conference. Surely, they’d do better booking comedy-controller, director, Bill Buckhurst’s advice – Get thee to a nunnery.

Runs Until 15 October 2022 and on tour

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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