Sister Act, Bristol Hippodrome

THE critic Lionel Hale once described the legendarily risqué comedian Max Miller’s act as being full of ‘honest vulgarity’. It is a phrase that can be used to describe this production which makes no apologies for lurching happily from big, bold, flashy numbers, performed in uninhibited style by soloists and ensemble alike, to gentle oversentimental moments in song and storytelling.

Nor does it apologise for sending the principals and full nuns’ chorus on for the final scene in glam and glitz costumes that would not be out of place in a pantomime walk-down, all conducted by an MD dressed as the Pope.

The whole presentation is loud but perfectly balanced, so that when Sandra Marvin’s Deloris Van Cartier, as well-balanced as the sound, vocally and dramatically between reality and musical comedy, belts out Sister Act you can follow every word. Matching Sandra’s bravura performance and at the same time adding a realistic line to all the broad comedy is Lesley Joseph’s Mother Superior. It takes great skill, honed by years of experience, to create and sustain such a real character among so many painted with broad brush strokes.

The show describes itself as a “divine musical comedy”, and while the word divine may jar a little, it certainly is a musical comedy. On the music side Lizzie Bea, a delightfully gauche young postulant Sister Mary Robert, suddenly bursts forth with a real showstopper in The Life I Never Led. The nine nuns (I suspect with the aid of a little backing tape) go happily from some wonderful off- key singing led by Deloris, to rousing numbers like Raise your Voice and Take Me to Heaven. They also create some very enjoyable individuals among this excellent singing ensemble.
Clive Rowe’s self-effacing, frustrated-in-love policeman Steady Eddie Souther, joins in the musical fun with I Could be that Guy, and Jeremy Secomb’s ineffectual tough guy Curtis, having led his three comic stooges in When I find my Baby, stands back to allow them to show their prowess as a trio of fine song-and- dance men in Lady in the Long Dress.

Big chorus numbers, mainly with the hyper active Deloris at their head and enhanced by Allistair David’s choreography, rub shoulders with quieter moments like Lesley Joseph’s contemplative I Haven’t a Prayer, before four gradually building reprises lead up to a full-blooded ending in Bill Buckhurst’s happy go lucky production. It’s a production that achieved what it set out to do – drawing the audience to their feet at the end in a rousing reception, before leaving in the happiest of moods.

Later in a long tour the show can be seen at the Mayflower in Southampton from 2nd to 6th May, Cheltenham’s Everyman from 16th to 28th October and Cardiff’s Millennium Centre, from 13th to18th November.


Photograph Manuel Harlan

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