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Sister Act: The beloved, dazzling musical returns to Leicester
The hit musical Sister Act returned to Leicester this month as a Made at Curve production.
In 1992, the landscape of pop culture changed forever when the film Sister Act was released. Starring Whoopi Goldberg, the movie is about an up-and-coming soul singer named Deloris Van Cartier who must go into hiding at a convent after witnessing her gangster boyfriend, Vince, murder someone. In the musical, Vince is called Curtis instead. When the wisecracking performer tries to fit in with the regimented gaggle of nuns by leading their doomed choir from tone-deaf to tuneful, hilarity ensues. The following year, we were blessed with a sequel called Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit. Over a decade later, the nuns hot-footed it from the big screen to the stage with a musical adaptation.
The hit musical returned to Leicester this month as a Made at Curve production. Now on a UK and Ireland tour, it stars Landi Oshinowo as Deloris, the heart and soul of the musical. With equal warmth and sass, Oshinowo confidently leads the cast and brings the house down with her showstopping vocal talent. Deloris' overall character arc – about finding purpose outside of wanting fame and money – rings true in Oshinowo's stellar performance.
Alfie Parker, playing Deloris' love interest, police officer Eddie Souther, oozes charisma and awkwardly adorable charm. Souther's solo number "I Could Be That Guy" is excellently sung by Parker and features a surprise dance break that is utterly thrilling. Individually, Oshinowo and Parker shine; their scenes together, however, lack chemistry. The relationship between an African American woman and a white American police officer could be read differently now after the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests, during which much attention was paid to the tensions between Black communities and police forces around the world. This casting choice is even more puzzling when looking back to the original 1992 film, in which African American actor Bill Nunn played Souther.
Lori Haley Fox offers a measured performance as Mother Superior, bringing the essential uptightness that the character needs. However, her quiet storyline about wanting to maintain a traditional convent is unfortunately lost amongst the vibrance that the show offers elsewhere. Similarly, the performance of Ian Gareth-Jones as Curtis Jackson, the gangster boyfriend of Deloris and antagonist of the musical, doesn't feel menacing enough and is mostly forgettable compared to the hilarious performances of his three lackeys.
Eloise Runnette, as Sister Mary Robert, has a stunning character transformation from meek to utterly confident. Runnette is a vocal powerhouse in her well-earned number "The Life I Never Led". A special shoutout to Isabel Canning, as the enthusiastic Sister Mary Patrick, who plays the role with such gusto and an endearing energy, making her a delight to watch. Another special shoutout goes to Callum Martin, who played Joey, one of Curtis' henchmen. Martin comfortably and confidently leans into the comedic relief of the character and takes every funny opportunity that the musical offers – an absolute scene stealer. The clean, tight harmonies of the hardworking ensemble are nothing short of heavenly.
The whole company worked in harmony and clearly had such fun in this musical, which made it even more enjoyable to watch as an audience member. In this particular production, some of the strongest points lie in moments of physical comedy and visual gags. Alistair David's choreography, whilst rather polite, has 70s disco influences and moments of terrific comedy. Bill Buckhurst's direction is smooth and, at times, funny. However, some of the scenes felt more considered than others. Charlie Russell and Kev McCurdy were the Comedy Sequences Director and the Fight Director, respectively. The parts of the show where Russell and McCurdy worked together were excellent, particularly the fight sequence between the nuns and gang members in Act Two. However, there were many moments when the comedy could have been pushed further and, therefore, fell flat. This source material needed to be matched by a keen comedic directorial eye as it felt like there were multiple missed opportunities. The times when jokes and funny elements didn't work in this show were sadly evident in the mostly quiet audience, who had been lively and enthusiastic before the musical began. The book, written by Cheri and Bill Steinkellner, with additional material by Douglas Carter Beane, is hilariously witty and excellently places more of an emphasis on themes of sisterhood and belonging. The music by the iconic Alan Menken, with lyrics by Glenn Slater, is a fantastic blend of musical theatre, gospel and disco. Whilst some of the songs are more memorable than others, the standout numbers ("Take Me To Heaven", "Raise Your Voice", "Sister Act") are a true musical treat.
Although adding disco balls above the stage and stained-glass windows as a backdrop was inspired, elsewhere the show unfortunately suffers from some noticeably budget-friendly costumes, wigs, and props. There were moments in this campy show where this worked. However, the overall quality of the show's costumes and props could have been better with the grandeur of its premise. The source material could be tightened as the show runs slightly too long. However, this production is an exceptionally good time. Sister Act may not tackle any serious issue, but it doesn't need to. It's as light as a champagne bubble and is truly uplifting in its message. Despite their differences, these nuns accept and support one another and, when the time comes, team up to fight off some bad guys. Eurythmics and Aretha Franklin were right: sisters are, indeed, doing it for themselves.
Sister Act is on tour until the beginning of October 2024, when the nuns will bid farewell at the Liverpool Empire.