Heavenly uplifting, ‘Sister Act’ (the hugely popular film from 1992) first debuted on a UK stage at the London Palladium in 2009. Since that time, it’s enjoyed West End runs as well as UK tours, and last night the divine cast of 2023 came to Ipswich Regent Theatre to deliver a joyous performance that was simply sensational.
Sister Act tells the story of struggling club singer Deloris Van Cartier (played brilliantly by Sandra Marvin, who has starred on both stage and screen – ‘Waitress’ and ‘Emmerdale’) who witnesses a murder committed by her gangster boyfriend, Curtis Jackson (Jeremy Secomb).
Local police sergeant ‘Steady’ Eddie Souther (Clive Rowe) decides that Deloris needs to be hidden away somewhere for her own protection. And decides that the local ailing convent is the best place for a loud and brash club singer to blend in!
Unfortunately for Deloris, Mother Superior (played wonderfully by the ever stoic and strong Lesley Joseph – perhaps best known for her role as Dorien, the glamorous yet nosy neighbour in ‘Birds of a Feather’) has other ideas about the matter and the two initially clash – until Mother Superior has a brainwave and puts Deloris in charge of the terrible caterwauling convent choir.
It’s here that we meet more outstanding cast members – Lizzie Bea is brilliant as Sister Mary Robert, alongside Sisters Mary Patrick, Mary Lazarus and Mary Teresa (played by Catherine Millsom, Anne Smtih and Tricia Deighton) and the bond is sealed between bawdy Deloris and her habit-clad friends.
There really is a plethora of talent in this cast, and too many wonderful songs to mention them all; but two for me that really stood out: ‘Lady in the Long Black Dress’ – a brilliantly hammed up number with a hilarious 70s feel which was delivered by Pablo, Joey and TJ (the hapless trio of gangsters that Curtis sends to try to find Deloris) and also ‘I Haven’t Got a Prayer’ – a poignant solo moment which was expressed beautifully by Lesley Joseph as a desperate Mother Superior imploring her Lord to help her in her desperate time of need!
Sandra Marvin’s voice as Deloris is resplendent throughout the whole show – strong, soulful, smooth and silky – with plenty of gospel nuances to flit effortlessly between her two personas.
Sister Act is slickly presented and wonderfully lit with built in lights and panels – enough to suggest the interior of the convent with its stained glass windows and also the simple settings of the police station, Eddie’s humble bedroom and even the local bar.
Bill Buckhurst the director, and head choreographer Alistair David, ensure that the exciting pace is maintained throughout the show, with some great scenes such as the chase with the rickshaw, Eddie’s quick costume change (from copper to come-hither 70s soul crooner) and of course, the final chase and shoot out at the convent.
The orchestra, led by musical director Neil MacDonald, were exceptional throughout, and even though we couldn’t see them, they were certainly well heard and played with both ease and passion. The perfect accompaniment to the range and experience of the voices on stage.
Obviously, with the show mainly being set in a convent, most of the costumes are rather monochrome!
But the set and costume designer, Morgan Large, was definitely allowed to ‘go large’ with the clothes that were worn in the finale – these were a glittering rainbow twist to ‘kick the habit’ and bring this spectacular show to its celebratory conclusion.
Sister Act is a show full of fun, laughter, emotions and joy, and to coin the title of the last song of act one, it certainly did ‘Take Me to Heaven’