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Sister Act

Cheri and Bill Steinkellner, Alan Mencken, Glenn Slater

Jamie Wilson, Kevin McCollum, Gavin Kalin, Robbie Wilson & Curve

Palace Theatre, Manchester

March 18-30, 2024; 2hrs 30 mins

(also Gand Opera House York, May 6-11; Buxton Opera House May 27-Jun 1; Storyhouse Chester June 24-29; Grimsby Auditorium July 2-6; Blackpool Winter Gardens July 15-20; Darlington Hippodrome September 9-14; Liverpool Empire September 30-October 5)

Landi Oshinowo as Deloris ands Sue Cleaver as the Mother Superior in Sister Act at the Palce Theatre, Manchester. All pics: Mark Senior
Landi Oshinowo as Deloris ands Sue Cleaver as the Mother Superior in Sister Act at the Palce Theatre, Manchester. All pics: Mark Senior

Banner showing a three and a half star rating

Night club singer Deloris, having witnessed her boyfriend committing murder, goes into witness protection, hiding in a convent also fighting for its survival.

Probably the most second-most favourite musical theatre plotline – after boy meets girl of course – is an event that throws together people from different worlds. Initial distress is overtaken by the necessity of working together and the resulting bond enhances everyone’s lives. A sort of "learn from others” genre, which works particularly well in the post-pandemic world.

Or you can just give the audience some belting songs, tons of empathy, sequins, costume changes and a few stand-out performances. A night of smiles and joyous predictability is something we all deserve, not least of all the theatre's lovely front-of-house staff, who quickly and cheerfully settled the damp audience for a technically-delayed late start (this was the first performance on the first venue of a new UK tour).

Anyway, Sister Act, based on the popular film, fits the bill.

Landi Oshinowo as Deloris is outstanding. The opening number doesn’t serve her voice as well as it might, but the reminder of the original score is brought alive when she sings, reflecting her growth from a woman moving from dependency in a toxic relationship to finding validation among her "sisters".

Sue Cleaver as the Mother Superior, is playing to a home audience, including some of her Coronation Street colleagues. She is well received, deservedly so, and delivers a character initially comfortable that her view of the world is genuinely "superior". She is aided by a very different accent from the one we’re used to. Her concern for her convent and her responsibilities towards the nuns, novice and experienced, is portrayed with a believable sincerity and authority, and her eventual acceptance of Doloris and her opening-up to modernity provides some essential dramatic growth.

Another standard of musical theatre, much developed in the last 20 years, is the overlooked empathy character, the one who grabs the audience by its conscience and makes a sentimentality-fuelled likeable "journey" to reveal a reality and live a life they’ve always longed for and deserved. Alfie Parker as unremarkable local cop Eddie "Steady Eddie" Souther pulls in the audience with superb singing, surprisingly good dancing and of course a role essential to a strong plot outcome.

Eloise Runnette makes a stunning professional debut as novice nun Sister Mary Robert: whose voice, diction, dancing and audience engagement are all thrilling. It will be fascinating to follow her future career.

What might surprise many is the lack of known songs. I’ve never seen the film but understand it was full of well-known anthems, bringing easy audience identification. The musical has been reset - in 1970s Philadelphia - with a new score by Tony and Oscar winner Alan Menken and lyrics by Glenn Slater. That might be a disappointment for some in the audience if they expect a show reflecting the film. While the songs stand well in context - with a 70s Philly vibe - most are not exactly memorable. There are also times when the story line is a little clunky; some scenes seem to be pure filler.

Nonetheless the key moments – the expanding confidence of Landi Oshinowo’s performance as Deloris, the empathy characters' moments in the spotlight, and the superb, rousing choral ending to Act 1 are worthy of any modern musical, and send the Manchester audience out into the streets buzzing – even if not singing...

More info and tickets here


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