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Review: Sister Act (UK tour)

Review by Raphael Kohn

 

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

 

Who doesn’t love camp, dancing, disco nuns? Not me, for sure. Alan Menken’s hit musical adaptation of the divine 1992 comedy film is off on another UK tour, this week stopping at the Birmingham Hippodrome, while also gracing the stage of the Dominion Theatre in the West End. And it’s not hard to see why it’s so successful. It’s an all-singing, all-dancing, all-fun night out at the theatre, so fun it would be hard to not make return visits a habit.

 

Don’t worry, though. That’s the last bad pun about the subject matter I’ll write. There will be nun left for the rest of this review.

 

You know what you’re getting yourself in for the moment it starts, with a disco-funk-soul-gospel score pounding out of the speakers and reverberating through the building, telling the story of singer Deloris Van Cartier, having witnessed a murder, being hidden in witness protection in a convent. The story really is that silly. The story really is that brilliant.



And if you love the film, you’ll absolutely love the musical. Cheri and Bill Steinkellner take the story, ramp up the camp and have written a book that is wonderfully funny. Director Bill Buckhurst takes the hint, and delivers a production high on camp and ecstatically energetic. The energy rarely sags, constantly pushing and pushing for laughs (and absolutely getting them).

 

I’d dare to say it’s the music that really makes Sister Act. Menken’s talents have been proven a million times over with the epic Little Shop of Horrors, Aladdin, Newsies and so many more, so it’s hardly a surprise that the music of Sister Act truly rocks. After a brief prologue we are launched into ‘Take Me To Heaven’ and ‘Fabulous, Baby!’, two stellar tunes that set the scene just perfectly. The utterly heavenly ‘Raise Your Voice’, a true musical theatre banger is a true highlight of the show, showcasing the entire nuns ensemble.



But as for the cast, it can be a touch more mixed. Landi Oshinowo has a singing voice that is frankly perfection, belting out her tunes with power and polish galore, but comes across slightly timid and unengaged in her acting at times. Her co-lead star, Coronation Street’s Sue Cleaver as Mother Superior, has the opposite – while her acting brings out such sarcastic, comedic joy, doing the role tremendous justice, her singing at times falters especially given the role’s harsh demands of its singer. Both still turn out great performances overall, finding ways to overcome such issues (Sue Cleaver speaks through the majority of her songs rather than singing the lines, which often works wonders through her clear acting talent), so it never really causes any problems overall.

 

As for their supporting cast, there is much to love. Alfie Parker’s Eddie Souther, the police officer in charge of Deloris’ witness protection, is absolutely loveable from his first moments onstage with such warm energy and charm. Coupled with a fabulous singing voice, it’s hard to imagine another performer ever playing the role better. Eloise Runnette has to wait to show off her talent as the timid Sister Mary Robert, but once she begins to let rip in ‘Raise Your Voice’, she becomes unstoppable. From her first moments in Act Two’s song ‘The Life I Never Lead’, she simply dominates the stage with her presence.



And the production values are off the scale. We have Morgan Large’s set, framing everything within large stained-glass windows, with a fabulous back wall of lights to dazzle the eyes of the front row. We have Tim Mitchell’s simply exceptional lighting, complete with disco balls in front of the proscenium arch. Lighting up each ring of the stained-glass windows to make some cracking effects, Mitchell’s colourful palette and energetic design is just glorious. And while at times I was wondering if there was any more that could be done with the set – at times it feels a touch empty (although in a dilapidated church, that could be the point?), and as if the action was longing for a bit more scenery. Thankfully, Large’s costumes are a true highlight, with a particular set of outfits for Alfie Parker’s Eddie being simply stunning (you’ll have to see them yourself to know what I mean).

 

It's exactly what you can expect from a musical adaptation of Sister Act. I’d go so far as to say it’s better than what you can expect. Perhaps even, it’s better than the movie. If you’re looking for a silly, funny night out in Birmingham there’s few things better to do. So go down to church at the Hippodrome. You’ve only got until Saturday to do so.

 

Sister Act runs until 18 May at the Birmingham Hippodrome, then touring until October 2024. Tickets for the tour available from https://sisteractthemusical.co.uk/uk-tour/#booktickets

 

Photos by Mark Senior

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