Stage version of Whoopi Goldberg screen success hits all the right notes
Sequined nuns’ habits, groovy soul tunes and a string of holy jokes characterise Sister Act, the musical. Though it’s produced by the film’s original star, Whoopi Goldberg, the stage version contains no songs from the film and follows a revised script. This allows the musical to focus on themes such as confidence-building and sorority, while entertaining the audience with new, thunderous tunes such as ‘Take Me to Heaven’ and ‘Sunday Morning Fever’.
Set on Christmas Eve 1977 in Philadelphia rather than the film’s locations of Reno and San Francisco, we first meet Deloris Van Cartier singing for her married mobster boyfriend, Curtis Jackson. After giving Deloris his wife’s fur coat as a Christmas present, Curtis and his gang leave to take care of business. A fuming Deloris stumbles upon the execution of a supposed informant. Claiming she saw nothing, Deloris runs to the police department where she meets old high school chum ‘Sweaty’ Eddie Souther. After being whisked off to the Queen of Angels convent, Deloris charms the Monsignor O’Hara but irritates the Mother Superior with her transformation of the formerly tuneless choir.
As Deloris, Cynthia Erivo evokes Goldberg’s streetwise comedy but adds some Beyoncé-style glamour with hip dance moves and soaring vocals. Denise Black is in the shadow of Maggie Smith’s performance as the highly principled Mother Superior, but Black carves her own path with timely quips and earnest solos. Men share a greater role than in the film which encourages a welcome battle of sexes. Playing the roles of Eddie and Curtis, Edward Baruwa and Cavin Cornwall provide sultry, Motown-inspired solos.
Though the action lags in the second half, the nuns’ ensemble numbers are pure spectacle. Their flapping dance moves, glittery gowns and boisterous voices get the audience on their feet. A surprise ending and a cast finale number of ‘Spread the Love Around’ ends the evening on a high note.
Edinburgh Playhouse, until Sat 12 Nov.