Book: Cheri Steinkellner and Bill Steinkellner
Music: Alan Menken
Lyrics: Glenn Slater
Director: Bill Buckhurst
Sandra Marvin and Lesley Joseph lead a superb cast in this fun and frolicking production of Sister Act, which is finally touring having been postponed in 2020 due to the COVID pandemic.
The production loosely, with a few tweaks, follows the plot of the hit nineties comedy film, where Marvin’s lounge singer Deloris Van Cartier is placed into a witness protection programme, under the supervision of devout nun, Mother Superior (Lesley Joseph), after witnessing a horrific crime. What follows is a largely entertaining production which sees Marvin’s character get to grips with life as a nun, while inspiring the truly dreadful convent choir into action, propelling them into unlikely stardom. It is a production full of heart, and captures the essence of its source material and isn’t negatively impacted by some of the changes made.
As Van Cartier, Marvin’s incredible vocal range is put to the test and this performance would not look out of place on one of London’s leading West End stages. Marvin’s sublime characterisation enables the audience to slowly warm to her character, much like the nuns do, while equally successfully selling the moments of physical comedy, when required, too. Marvin’s powerful presence is one of the production’s standout features, but what also makes the show so successful is Marvin’s interaction with the rest of the cast. These interactions are seamless enabling Van Cartier’s story to develop.
Joseph’s Mother Superior is a wonderful antithesis to Marvin’s bold protagonist. As the understated Mother Superior, Joseph captures well a nun caught in the crossfire of this scheme, grappling too with a crisis of faith as her peaceful world looks set to be robbed from her and delivers this with absolute ease. Joseph oozes class in her portrayal of this role and gets quite a few laughs as the straight character against a lot of the other characters’ punchlines. Joseph’s work, particularly in Act 2, where her character’s faith is truly tested, is poignant, and Mother Superior’s solo numbers in both acts are spellbindingly good.
In addition, Clive Rowe’s goofy yet loveable policeman Eddie Souther threatens to steal the show. Rowe quickly creates a character you root for as he attempts to protect Dolores and win her heart, and Rowe’s adept ability at physical comedy makes him a standout performer for this character. What is equally as entertaining is Rowe’s singing ability, which is simply stunning, and his number I Could Be That Guy, in Act 1, combines his musical talents with a superb costume trick that perfectly sets the piece’s mood at that point.
Making up the leads is Lizzie Bea, who is Sister Mary Robert, a young member of the convent who is swept up in the glamour of Dolores, and wrestles too with her own faith and the cost of the sacrifices she has made to lead such a life. Bea is wonderful in a role that feels slightly undervalues her incredible presence on stage. Bea’s ability to tell such powerful storytelling through subtle changes in her singing voice is a triumph, and her tenderness and youthful naivety is a welcome contrast to Dolores’ experience of the world.
Sister Act would not be nearly as good without the exceptional ensemble cast, including some hysterical performances from the rest of the convent’s nuns. It is this group which are the highlight of the production as most of the humour is driven through their amusing revelations experienced through singing. In a world of Call the Midwife, this is another look at how nuns perhaps are not as reserved as we might think, with genuinely laugh-out-loud results. In addition, Jeremy Secomb’s truly dreadful, and wonderfully hyperbolic, villain Curtis Jackson is well performed and provides the performance’s moments of terror when it is needed.
Where Sister Act does falter slightly is in its inconsistent plotting. Both acts end with a trio of really fun and exceptional numbers, which disguises the ploddy narrative that precedes it. That said, it is quickly rescued by a clearly hardworking and experienced cast who deservedly bask in plaudits as the final curtain closes.
Sister Act is described as a ‘divine musical comedy’ and, from this viewing, there is definitely enough in it to suggest something is shining down on them.
Runs until 11 February then continues to tour