Having accidentally witnessed her mobster boyfriend Curtis murder an employee, singer and wannabe-diva Deloris Van Cartier goes on the run. She is disguised as a nun, and hidden at St. Katherine’s, a struggling Catholic Church, by Lieutenant Eddie Souther, a police officer and childhood friend of Deloris. With her background in music, she is put in charge of the woeful convent choir, but turns them and the fortunes of the Church around while trying to stay one step ahead of Curtis and his heavies.
This adaptation - which ran in the West End from 2009-10 - successfully realises many of the familiar characters from the hit film, such as Sister Mary Robert, Patrick, and Lazarus, who are all excellent. But in the stage version, more marginal characters are very successfully brought to the fore. Besotted with Deloris but cripplingly shy, ‘Sweaty’ Eddie Souther, played by Edward Baruwa, very nearly steals the show, and Curtis’ goons entertain and delight despite being sidelined for the most of the story.
Appropriately, Mark Crosslands’ vocal arrangements are superb, and move the narrative along at an electrifying pace. The story is best told when sung, and Glenn Slater’s clever use of lyrics prevents the transition to song becoming contrived or mawkish. In particular, the first choir rehearsal with Deloris, when the Sisters discover their ‘voice’, is not only musically impressive, but genuinely touching and joyful.
The slower pace of the second half feels indulgent at times, and the narrative a little superficial, highlighted when Deloris and the Mother Superior awkwardly discuss the wider religious implications of the Church’s transformation. But Jerry Zaks’ touring production is an excellent, opulent rendition, with rich staging, dazzling costume and lots of fun. Special mention must go to Cynthia Erivo as Deloris. Whether in full choir-leading flamboyance, or solitary reflection, her performance is always captivating.