Sister Act The Musical – Belgrade Theatre, Coventry

Reviewer: Selwyn Knight

Book: Cheri Steinkellner and Bill Steinkellner

Music: Alan Menken

Lyrics: Glenn Slater

Director: Bill Buckhurst

Based on the 1992 film of the same name, Sister Act is a high-octane fun night out.

This revival has had a slightly chequered career, with development interrupted by the closure of theatres during the COVID-19 pandemic, but it has roared back for this tour that extends well into next year.

It’s Christmas Eve, 1977. The Convent of the Sisters of Perpetual Sorrow is falling into disrepair and being circled by property developers. With a tiny congregation at the midnight mass, it seems the conservative order may well not survive. Meanwhile, aspiring nightclub singer, Deloris Van Cartier, inadvertently witnesses her lowlife boyfriend, Curtis, shoot an informant gang member. She races to the police station where ‘Steady’ Eddie – who had a massive crush on Deloris in high school – takes the decision to hide her in the convent. At first, Deloris and the nuns are like chalk and cheese – the ultimate culture clash – but a bond develops as she updates their singing, introducing the novel concept of singing in tune, bringing back audiences congregations and raising money for the restoration fund.

But all is not sweetness and light at the convent. Mother Superior is resistant to change and the nuns’ new-found fame leads to Curtis and his goons finding out where Deloris is holed up.

The soundtrack to the musical is heavily influenced by the phenomenon of disco in the late 1970s. Doug Besterman’s orchestrations and Alistair David’s choreography remain faithful to the feel of the decade that taste forgot, leading many audience members to give wry smiles in response to the glitter and flares onstage. There’s a particularly funny homage to The Floaters and Float On.

As Deloris, Landi Oshinowo is loud, brash and suitably cheap. She sweeps into the convent like the proverbial unstoppable force, opening the eyes of the sisters to how things could be different. At press night, Mother Superior was played by Lori Haley Fox, showing her internal struggle as Deloris seems to take over. Her song in the second half, I Haven’t Got a Prayer, sums up her disquiet as the convent changes. The young postulant, Sister Mary Robert, is brought to us by Lizzie Bea, and her journey is possibly the most interesting as she questions her faith and life choices, with a show-stopping rendition of The Life I Never Led – she also has a magnificent voice, once Sister Mary Robert has developed the confidence to use it.

There are plenty of funny moments, often coming from the brilliant physical comedy of Isabel Canning as Sister Mary Patrick – imagine Joyce Grenfell singing disco … in a habit. In the song and dance pieces, it becomes impossible to take one’s eyes off her gawky awkwardness. And Alfie Parker as Steady Eddie’s rendition of Fabulous Baby! has to be seen to be believed.

However, there’s no disguising that the plot is thin and the other characters two-dimensional caricatures, providing almost pantomimic support to the principals. Even so, there’s a strong message of sisterhood, togetherness and mutual support underlying the show leading to the triumphal finale.

The whole is great fun – there’s nostalgia aplenty and some cracking songs, voices and choreography. And the unspoken message of strength through diversity is welcome in these dark days. Accept it for what it is and you’ll have a great time.

Runs until 14 October 2023 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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