Before we go on, you should know that I’m going to squeeze as many religious puns in as possible. I would feel cheap doing it, but with theatre staff wearing habits and the voiceover telling us that having our mobiles on was “a sin”, I’m not going to altar a thing.
If you’ve seen the 1992 Whoopi Goldberg movie, you’ll know the premise. When trashy lounge singer Deloris Van Cartier sees her gangster boyfriend bumping someone off, she goes into hiding before his cronies kill her too. So the police hole her up in the last place they’d look — a convent run by a straight-laced nun. The musical sticks fairly religiously to the movie plot, with just a few tweaks, including a budding romance. But the biggest change has to be the all-new score. Whilst some songs got people pushing up the sleeves of their fancy dress habits to clap along, if you got me in a confessional, I’d have to admit I was left praying for the classic Biblical-parody songs from the film. For me, there were one too many ballads to really get me dancing in the aisles.
But whilst it could have done with a few more rousing numbers, the finale certainly saw the sisters doing it for themselves with a glittery, camp, feel-good success. There was even a standing ovation, making it feel just like church — without the socks and sandals. I bet even Kum-By-Yah would enjoy a new lease of life given the Sister Act treatment. I don’t make a habit of watching dancing nuns, but now I can’t wait for the monk version in ‘Da Vinci Code The Musical’.
The comedy was a blessing though, with big laughs all the way through. One of the funniest songs involved clueless gangsters discussing how to seduce a bunch of ageing nuns (Surely ’50 Shades of Pray’ would do it?).
With a voice as big as her afro, Cynthia Erivo sang the lead role with soul. And Denise Black’s Mother Superior had some cracking lines, dryly delivered. After dehydrated tea bag Maggie Smith went on to the heady heights of Downton Abbey, maybe Corrie’s Denise can look forward to a long career of pursing her lips into a puckered cat’s arse too.
The sets were heavenly, giving it a big budget Broadway feel. And the costumes were ecclesiastical-chic. I expected to see 30 shapeless black dresses appearing on eBay the week after the show but the costumes were a revelation. One scene involving Deloris’ love interest was amazing, with his outfit going from black to dazzling white in a flash. Even Michael Jackson didn’t make the change that quickly.
It was the most fun I’ve had at church since Songs of Praise started broadcasting from The Warehouse Project. Combining comedy with the choirs of heaven, Sister Act had plenty of (holy) spirit. All that remains now is to see how many religious references you spotted. I count 13. Amen! (Actually, make that 14.)