The weeks in the immediate aftermath of Christmas and New Year are notoriously quieter in the entertainment sector, and it is hardly surprising. Money is tight, belts are tighter and persuading the public to indulge a little more can be tricky. A night at the theatre however may be just the ticket, as I found out to my pleasure with Bristol Hippodrome’s post-panto offering “Sister Act”.
Based on the hit 1992 film starring Whoopi Goldberg, the musical (produced by the woman herself) is slap-bang in the middle of its UK tour. Penned by Cherie and Bill Steinkellner, the original West End production opened at the London Palladium in June 2009 and a new production has opened on Broadway to multiple Tony Award nominations in the past year.
This show sees Cynthia Erivo star as Deloris Van Cartier – a wannabe superstar singer who, from the curtain raise, throws us into a world of 70s soul and disco. Donned like Foxy Cleopatra, belting out “take me to heaven”, Erivo owns the stage. She radiates charisma and shifts effortlessly between the 70s vibe and the Broadway squeal encapsulating the show. Despite this, I thought that Sister Act has a rather low-key, prologue opening for my taste, which unfortunately made it feel a little slow. This feeling continues when Deloris is cut off in her prime by her lover-come-bar owner, Curtis, who claims she is not good enough to sing in his club yet, much to her chagrin.
Everything changes for Deloris though when she is hidden by police in a convent for protection, after she witnesses Curtis shoot a man in the street. Hardly the happiest setting to a musical comedy when your married lover sets his three violent (though farcical) goons on you, and initially I feared the worst when the introduction of smitten police officer “sweaty” Eddie Souther, played by Edward Baruwa, failed to pick up the pace.
However, It soon becomes clear that I had no reason to be worried as the introduction of the fantastic nuns, characterised beautifully by the ensemble cast and led by stubborn Mother Superior – played by Denise Black with her immaculately placed facial expressions – lifted the entire show to the rafters and beyond.
The dynamic between the repressed, rebellious nuns and Deloris worked wonderfully as a plot device and contributes much of the shows humour. The amazing Julie Atherton stood out particularly as Sister Mary Robert – I remember her from the West End production of “Avenue Q” and yet again she delivers a charming performance full of energy and joy.
What seems to be a recurring theme throughout the show is that first impressions are often misleading. This is certainly the way I felt about the show as a whole because it just got better and better as it went on. Baruwa’s Eddie personifies this with a smooth yet rousing number about half way through act one, featuring many costume changes, and made me feel really invested in the whole performance for the first time. It was fantastic.
An honourable mention to Gemma Knight Jones too, who took over the role of Deloris at the interval due to unknown circumstances, and carried the part off seamlessly – and just as strikingly! All this, paired with a catchy soundtrack, fabulously colourful costumes and an impressive amount of moveable scenery made for a thoroughly enjoyable evening.
Loyal to the film, Sister Act is a feel-great, Broadway/70s Saturday night fever mash up. Fun, flashy and a rapping Granny! An utter pleasure.
“Sister Act” @ Bristol Hippodrome, St Augustine’s Parade, Bristol – Stage Entertainment (in association with Whoopi Goldberg – Tickets available through www.bristolhippodrome.org.uk or by calling 0844 871 3012.