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Gangster dodging disco diva Deloris hides out in convent
After seeing her gangster boyfriend kill an employee, Reno lounge singer Deloris Van Cartier is placed on a witness protection programme and hidden in a convent, where she proceeds to take over the rehearsals of the in-house choir of nuns. Thanks to her musical expertise, the choir becomes a huge success and church attendances go through the roof.
But in giving the church a new lease of life, Deloris may inadvertently have jeopardised her own safety...
Based on the hit Whoopi Goldberg movie of the same name, this fun-filled spectacular of a show boasts a real feelgood factor and stars Lesley Joseph.
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The 1992 film Sister Act saw Whoopi Goldberg give one of her finest performances as a lounge singer seeking refuge in a convent. Now it’s time for Midlands-born Sandra Marvin to take on Whoopi’s character of Deloris in a new production of the hit stage musical version of the original movie. What’s On recently caught up with Sandra to find out more...
When actress & singer Sandra Marvin was growing up in Leicester, one of her favourite films was the 1992 smash-hit, Sister Act. Starring Whoopi Goldberg, it tells the story of singer Deloris Van Cartier, who, after witnessing a murder, is hidden for her own protection in a convent. Assigned the job of running the convent choir, Deloris soon has the nuns discovering a new meaning of the word soul.
“I absolutely love Sister Act the film,” says Sandra. “I used to watch it as a child with my family, and I was really that child who tried to do all of the nuns’ routines and sing along with the songs. Whoever came up with the idea for the story, it’s absolute genius, and Whoopi Goldberg was so funny in it. It’s always been a story which is close to my heart.”
When the film was adapted into a West End musical in 2009, Sandra was in the audience, where she was equally entranced by the show. So when she was offered the part of Deloris in the latest tour of Sister Act The Musical - which comes to Birmingham Hippodrome this month and then visits the Wolverhampton Grand and Stoke-on-Trent’s Regent Theatre next year - she jumped at the chance.
“Deloris is so much fun to play,” she says during a break in rehearsals. “She is 24/7 unapologetically herself, and that’s what some of the humour comes from. She maintains the essence of who she is, regardless of where she is or who she’s talking to. That’s such a powerful thing to have, especially as a woman nowadays, to hold your own, be true to yourself and not feel you have to change yourself in any situation.
“I’ve been so lucky with the shows that I’ve been in and a lot of the roles I’ve played because I’ve walked away having learnt something from those characters. I think Deloris is quite an empowering character, while she’s also joyous and funny.”
Sandra has already clocked up an impressive range of top theatre roles, including Becky in Waitress, Mama Morton in Chicago, Queenie in Showboat, Motormouth Maybelle in Hairspray, Rose in Stepping Out and Camila Batmanghelidjh in Committee. Now she’s taking on Deloris, a role which, she says, asks a lot of a performer.
“The biggest challenge is the energy of her. She’s always on the front foot; she’s a hustler, always finding a way round things. Also in this show, she’s never off stage, so at the start of each performance, you know you’re in for that ride. But you enjoy it; the music is so wonderful - all that disco - how can you not enjoy it? You don’t have time to think beyond being Deloris.”
When Sister Act plays Birmingham Hippodrome, it will be a welcome return for Sandra, who toured to the theatre in 2010 and 2013 with Hairspray. She also made the city her home for seven years.
“I moved to Birmingham for work, and also because I already knew the city and loved it. I lived there in roughly the late 1990s/early 2000s - around Moseley, Bearwood and Bournville - and had an amazing time. I used to sing with quite a few local bands. I sang in a soul band called The Commandments, which was a Commitments tribute. I also fronted a rock band, and we used to do some of the local venues and conventions.
“Birmingham has a brilliant live music scene. Every time I go back there, I’m really surprised at how much it has changed, but I always like to go back to old haunts.”
Sandra also played Wolverhampton’s Grand Theatre with Hairspray - where she picked up an unusual souvenir.
“I have a tattoo from the tattoo shop across the road from the Grand. Myself and Brian Conley went across there and got tattoos.” But when I ask what of, Sandra laughs and says “Now that would be telling!”
Sandra has successfully carved out a career mixing theatre, television, film and music. She played head teacher Jessie Grant/Dingle in Emmerdale and Patricia Williams in Call The Midwife. She appeared in the film Florence Foster Jenkins and sung the title song on the Grammy-winning soundtrack for the film Gravity. She has also performed alongside a host of high-profile musicians, including Kate Bush, Liam Gallagher and Michael Ball, both live and on recordings. But for the next few months, she’ll be concentrating on Sister Act, in which she stars alongside Lesley Joseph, who plays the Mother Superior.
Sandra believes the musical has taken on an additional resonance following the Covid restrictions.
“It’s funny because this show was meant to have happened before lockdown, but along with a lot of other shows, it got put off. This story is literally about a lockdown, and it’s while she’s in the convent that Deloris learns what she really needs and what really makes her happy.
“She’s had this dream for the whole of her life, where her idea of success is to be famous like Donna Summer, but everything that happens while she’s in the convent makes her reassess what she really wants and needs in life. And she discovers the core of her life and happiness is from community and sisterhood. At the beginning, her ambition is all ‘me, me, me’, but it becomes about the nuns and giving them joy.
“I had so many conversations with friends about lockdown and how it made us reassess what really makes us happy. We started to look at our communities, our families and our friends and realised that that’s what makes our hearts happy. So post-pandemic, I think the show reflects this really well.”
So what would Sandra miss the most were she to be confined to a convent?
“It would be the music. I do have to say I have no idea what convents are really like - they could be getting down to Aretha Franklin and P Diddy, for all I know! - but in the Deloris and Sister Act convent, the music is very different from what I would usually enjoy. And I’d miss my phone! You get so dependent on these things for keeping in touch with your friends. But I’d definitely be a disruptive element like Deloris - I’ve got her mischief.”
Sister Act The Musical shows at: Birmingham Hippodrome from Tues 4 to Sat 15 October; Wolverhampton Grand Theatre, Mon 5 to Sat 10 June; and Regent Theatre, Stoke-on-Trent, Mon 25 to Sat 30 September.
Feature by Diane Parkes
Musical comedy sisters Nicola and Rosie Dempsey, better known as Flo & Joan, have been a big hit on TV shows including Live At The Apollo, The Royal Variety Performance and The Russell Howard Hour, as well as having their own one-hour comedy special on Amazon Prime.
The award-winning piano/percussion duo return to the stage this spring for their biggest-ever UK tour. We caught up with them to find out what to expect…
With a mammoth tour booked during an on-off pandemic, I assume you are optimists or at least ‘hopers’?
We’ve stopped looking at the date, and each morning we simply wake up, check to see what our diary says we should be doing, check the news for any dramatic events that might prevent us from fulfilling those obligations, and if we’re in the clear, we get on with it. It’s a terrifying and exhilarating way to live, but we’re all used to that now, aren’t we?
The tour is your biggest, and 60(!) dates long - how does that look written down? Intimidating? And how do you prepare for it - are there any changes to your routines due to Covid? Does the tour rider include vitamin C and LFTs?
If we’re printing on paper in size 12, single spaced Arial font, 60 tour dates looks like just under two pages of A4. If you think about it that way, it’s not especially intimidating because that’s barely the length of a Year Six SATS essay. If you look at them on a map it’s pretty exciting. We’ve been lucky to gig in the pockets of time where venues have been open over the last two years, so you’ll be relieved to know we’re not rusty. Our rider this year is 40 bottles of fresh champagne, to be replenished every show, and one dog each for us to pet between songs. We’re staying humble.
Speaking of the shows, the new one is called Sweet Release. Can you give us an idea of what it’s about?
The show is a collection of new songs that cover loads of different stuff, but it also touches on what you want to keep hold of in life and what you choose to let go of, which is where the title Sweet Release came from. Someone asked us if a ‘sweet release’ is a fart. That’s not what the show is about, but if you want to view it through that lens then all power to you.
Do you have a favourite sweet (confectionery) release?
Nicola: Today I’ll go for a fizzy bubblegum bottle, a scream and a vowel please, Carol.
Rosie: All sweets except Parma Violets. All releases except Parma Violets.
Should we read anything into the kitschy ’60s album cover-style tour poster - were you going for the Sonny & Cher look? And that keyboard looks a bit big…
Don’t read anything into anything we do or say. Ever. We’re very small people so naturally our instruments seem very large.
If you had to put together a job spec for your line of work, what skills would be essential and desirable?
A love of story and a playful nature. And despite how it seems, you really don’t have to stress yourself out about being funny or clever to perform improv comedy. It’s all about listening really carefully and responding instinctively - tapping into what makes all of us naturally funny and interesting.
The new show is set to cover ‘topics of the day’ - do you knock many songs or routines up on the fly or largely stick to a set list, albeit with scope to adlib and react to the audience?
By and large we stick to a set list because we’ve been honing the show to keep it as good and tight as we can. But of course we leave a little bit of room for ad-libbing, to keep it fun and so you know we’re not robots.
Speaking of the setlist, when you’re putting a show together, do you feel obliged to throw in a few greatest hits? There must be people who always want to hear I Drank Too Much or other favourites?
It’s our biggest tour yet, so we’ll be keeping in a few F&J bangers for the thirsty fans and people who’ve never seen us live before, but we might be giving them a little twist and freshen to keep everyone, and us, on our toes. We also have a lot of new stuff we’re excited to pump into the canon as well, so it’s a good mix.
This is your fifth full-length show - was it all conceived and written during lockdown? Was inspiration hard to come by during that time?
It’s been written over the last two years, which included both periods of lockdown and freedoms. If anything it was easier for us to write because we had no idea if or when we’d be touring again, so we got to open our brains and come up with stuff with absolutely no pressure whatsoever. We’re never short of inspiration, so even two years of uncertainty didn’t hinder us there, you’ll be pleased to know.
And who inspired you to become performers in the first place? Victoria Wood seems an obvious choice - in terms of wordplay/content as much as the musical element - but who else? Were the original Flo and Joan (your nan and her sister) in any way inspirational?
Nicola: I wouldn’t say I was inspired to be a performer, but people like Victoria Wood and Tim Minchin made me want to write musical comedy. Eddie Izzard was probably the first stand-up whose brain and thinking really resonated with me. And I found Tina Fey and Amy Poehler right when my love for comedy was blooming too.
Rosie: I used to like watching Julie Walters run around a shoe shop saying ‘We think we’ve got hens in the skirting board’, and it’s all gone on from there really. The OG Flo and Joan were a double act without realising, so we thank them for that inspiration.
Are there any contemporary comedians you particularly like or relate to?
Bridget Christie. Michelle Wolf. Rob Auton. Jenny Slate. Megan Stalter. We watch all of these people and come away feeling great and inspired. And Billy Connolly will always seem contemporary to us too.
Finally, the tour takes in quite a wide variety of venues - do you have a favourite or weirdest place you’ve performed? Birmingham Town Hall is a Grade-I listed building - is it the poshest?
We’ve got quite a few big posh venues on the tour, including Birmingham, so we’re excited to shake the ghosts around in them. The actual poshest place was a private party where our dressing room was their indoor swimming pool. We expect nothing less than that now. The weirdest? When we lived in Toronto we played a gig in a weed room (it’s legal there, don’t worry) and we were basically hot boxed in there for an hour. Our performance style by the end of the set was very different to the beginning.
Flo & Joan bring their new Sweet Release show to Birmingham Town Hall on 8 March, Stafford Gatehouse on 9 March, Royal Spa Centre, Leamington Spa on 6 May and Stourbridge Town Hall on 25 May
Sequins and stained glass windows come to the Wolverhampton Grand Theatre in Sister Act, a divine musical comedy.
Lesley Joseph stars as formidable Mother Superior, in less than heavenly circumstances. Money is tight, and the roof of her convent is ‘holy’ in more ways than one. She prays for help, which arrives in the unlikely form of Deloris Van Cartier (Sandra Marvin), a singer who dreams of stardom from the stage of a seedy nightclub: she’s Fabulous, Baby!
Deloris has witnessed a murder committed by her devious boyfriend, Curtis (Mark Goldthorp). Reunited with Eddie Souther (Alfie Parker), an old school friend who is now a cop, she is sent to the nunnery and disguised for her own protection. Mother Superior is appalled, and suggests that Deloris join the choir to keep her busy, worried that she will teach the other nuns some bad habits...
The music, performed by a live orchestra under Neil Macdonald’s musical direction, matches the 1970s setting, with nods to disco favourites and the queens of Soul. The songs, by Alan Menken (music) and Glenn Slater (lyrics), are perfectly pitched to showcase the talented performers on stage. And it’s fun to hear godly choral music transition into ‘Sunday Morning Fever’.
The sisters steal the show, of course, but the men have their moment in the spotlight as well. Eddie Souther’s dramatic ballad (with a twist) becomes one of the highlights, and Curtis’ three bumbling henchmen sing about the best way to go about wooing a nun; irreverent and inept, with a hint of the Bee Gees.
Together, Lesley Joseph and Sandra Marvin match each other, bursting with energy and representing opposite sides of the same coin. There are plenty of moments to make you laugh out loud, and a couple of very moving scenes as well. Some of the jokes are a bit out-dated, but it’s a ’70s throwback from start to finish, and it feels like part of the fun.
Morgan Large, as set and costume designer, also sends us back in time, courtesy of large flares, lapels, and platform shoes.
By the end, there is a riot of glitter on stage - everyone’s costume is bedazzled and fabulous. The nightclub-style lights are spectacular, and there are three disco balls front and centre for added sparkle! Four stars
Reviewed by Jessica Clixby at Wolverhampton Grand Theatre, Monday 5 June where the show runs until Saturday (10 June). It shows later this year at Regent Theatre, Stoke-on-Trent, Monday 25 - Saturday 30 September and Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Monday 9 - Saturday 14 October.
Iconic 1992 movie Sister Act saw Whoopi Goldberg give one of her most memorable performances as lead character Deloris Van Cartier.
The film was adapted into a hit West End musical in 2009 and continues to enjoy tremendous success. Set in 1970s’ Philadelphia - as opposed to the film’s 1990s’ San Francisco - its songs are inspired by Motown, soul and disco.
Disco diva Deloris, holed up for her own protection in a convent after witnessing a murder, is assigned the task of running the convent choir. Under the suspicious eye of Mother Superior, Deloris helps her fellow sisters find their voices whilst also unexpectedly discovering her own!
Bright, vibrant, upbeat and laugh-out-loud hilarious, Sister Act celebrates the power of sisterhood and song. Deloris is played by Sandra Marvin, whose strong and powerful voice threatens to raise the Hippodrome’s roof.
The extended sequence in the first act, where Deloris teaches the nuns to find their shared harmonious voice whilst singing Take Me To Heaven, is far-fetched but joyful in the extreme, as the nuns transform from a dull and dreary choir into a bold and brazen collective.
Lesley Joseph plays the beleaguered Mother Superior with perfect comic timing and has many fabulously funny lines. One of my favourites was when she was singing I Haven’t Got A Prayer, complaining to God what a bad influence Deloris is on the rest of the sisters, who, she laments, have become “celibate nuns shaking their buns!”
Police officer Eddie Souther - played by Clive Rowe - packs some real vocal power and delights the audience with rapid-fire costume changes whilst singing I Could Be That Guy. His performance is further enhanced by one of many dazzling dance numbers involving the ensemble, who are dressed as American police officers wearing sparkly silver bike helmets to complement Eddie’s Elvis-inspired jumpsuit.
Lizzie Bea is delightful as young postulant nun Sister Mary Robert. Her extremely moving solo song, The Life I Never Led, is an exploration of her feelings about missing out on the world beyond the convent, having never even had a chance to experience it.
The whole of the cast are great, the dialogue fast and witty, the choreography flirty and fun, the costumes reflective of the best - or possibly worst - of 1970s’ fashion (including some amazing platform boots that defy gravity!). The sparkling psychedelic nuns’ habits which make an appearance as the show reaches its conclusion are an absolute sight to behold!
Sister Act is a splendidly feelgood, thoroughly uplifting and magnificently entertaining night at the theatre!
The show runs at Birmingham Hippodrome until Saturday 15 October.
Reviewed by Sue Hull at Birmingham Hippodrome, 5 October 2022
The legendary extravaganza returns for a major UK tour.
The international, award-winning smash-hit musical is back!
With an original score of catchy pop tunes.