Big Hair. Big tunes. Big Heart.
That’s Sister Act in a nutshell as the stage show based on the smash hit Whoppi Goldberg movie where a nightclub singer goes on the run and hides in a nunnery gets back on the road.
The sister in question is wannabe star Deloris Van Cartier who witnesses her gangster lover commit a murder in 1970s Philadelphia and goes on the lam. She finds sanctuary in a local convent attached to a dilapidated church under the watchful eye of a Mother Superior who is British for some reason.
Culture clash is one of the classic tropes of musical theatre as earthy Deloris finds her own calling training the worst choir on the planet to get hip with the Lord’s word. Shock, horror, Mother Superior and her sisterhood of nuns learn something from the worldliness the flamboyant Deloris brings to them.
The cast are helped on this journey by eight-time Oscar winner Alan Menken’s soaring score cleverly fusing Motown, funk, disco and the local Philly sound, with some hip hop thrown in for good measure. The book is pretty similar to the movie, but Glen Slater’s smart lyrics gives a strong cast plenty to work with.
Some big names have played Deloris in the past, but Landi Oshinowo has done it the hard way building up her experience in the West End, so that when her moment in the spotlight came, she was ready. And, boy, was she ready bringing just the right amount of sass and pathos alongside her massive voice smashing all her solos, including a soaring Sister Act. This is also a story about a performer trying to find stardom and tonight Oshinowo turned in a barnstorming performance that would have made Whoopi proud.
You’d expect Birds of a Feather legend Lesley Joseph to have great comic timing as Mother Superior, and she does, but she also sings strongly, especially on a moving and witty I Haven’t Got A Prayer as she desperately calls on divine intervention with Deloris.
The secret sauce on Morgan Large’s garish seventies inspired set is a spectacularly good sisterhood of nuns who not only draw out the characters behind the habits, but sing, rap and dance beautifully collectively, and nail their solo numbers. Lizzie Bea belts it out as the naïve Sister Mary Robert and Isabel Canning is daffy as Sister Mary Patrick, but all the nuns are heavenly.
Ian Gareth-Jones is suitably sinister as gang boss Curtis, backed by his daft henchmen played by Bradley Judge, Callum Martin and Damian Buhagiar who have great fun with the sleazy seventies soul pastiche, Lady In The Long Black Dress, much to audience’s delight. Alfie Parker also shines as lovelorn cop Eddie, camping it up nicely during I Could Be That Guy.
Covid delayed this production by two years, but thankfully the producers believed in a show that celebrates the power of friendship and sisterhood. A West End standard show on a wet Monday night in West Yorkshire is always a joy and that is exactly what this warm-hearted show proves to be.
Sister Act is at Bradford Alhambra until Saturday 25th November. To book www.bradfrod-theatres.co.uk or 01274 432000.
Reviewer: Paul Clarke
Reviewed: 20th November 2023
North West End UK Rating: