REVIEW: Sister Act, A Divine Musical Comedy, Grand Opera House, York, until Saturday ****

Heaven help us: Landi Oshinowo’s Deloris Van Cartier and Sue Cleaver’s Mother Superior seeking divine intervention in Sister Act

DELIGHTED to be back in the habit as Deloris Van Cartier, Landi Oshinowo “would like to thank her God and her church”, says her programme profile.

By comparison, lounge singer Deloris is uncomfortable at being given rosary beads by one of the sisters of Our Lady of Perpetual Sorrow in 1977 Philadelphia.

Oshinowo’s Deloris is more a lady of perpetual motion and commotion, a lippy livewire first seen in sparkling dress and very big hair belting out Take Me To Heaven. Instead, her volatile mobster lover, Curtis Jackson (Ian Gareth-Jones) is taking her closer to hell, denying her the big break she craves.

On witnessing him kill an informant, she must flee from the Mafia’s clutches and into the church’s safe refuge as the unconventional meets the convent, clashing from the off with the formidable, dry-witted, disapproving Mother Superior (Sue Cleaver, in a break from Coronation Street for her first stage role in 30 years).

Placed in protective custody by gun-shy cop Eddie Souther (Alfie Parker), Deloris kicks the habits into shape, transforming the sisters’ singing from off-key shambolic to soul and gospel bliss as she blossoms into a divine diva.

Impressing Monsignor O’Hara (Phillip Arran) rather more than the exasperated Mother Superior, Deloris re-invigorates the rundown neighbourhood’s church services and coffers and rekindles the flame in Eddie’s schooldays crush.

Sister Act, A Divine Musical Comedy, plays to the effervescent spirit, irreverence and delightful daftness of Emile Ardolino’s 1992 movie, now bolstered by the Motown and Philly soul, funk, disco and rap pastiches of Little Shop Of Horrors’ Alan Menken and sassy lyrics of Glenn Slater.

Sue Cleaver: First stage role in 30 years for Coronation Street stalwart as Mother Superior

The book by Cheri and Bill Steinkellener revels in camping up the camp and giving the sisters bags of personality, from Eloise Runnette’s putative rebel Sister Mary Robert (in The Life I Never Had) to Isabel Canning’s boulder of sunshine Sister Mark Patrick and Julie Stark’s rasping, rapping Sister Mary Lazarus.

Callum Martin’s Joey, Michalis Antoniou’s Pablo and understudy Harvey Ebbage’s TJ are comic stooges to the manner born, their bungling mobster act peaking with Lady In The Long Black Dress (with its nod to The Floaters’ 1977 hit Float On). Better still is Parker’s Eddie Souther, ever humorous as the protective cop who craves stepping out of the background to live his soul singer dreams.

Cleaver brings more down-to-earth humour to the Mother Superior than past performers while retaining her serenity and air of authority, while Oshinowo is a joy as Deloris, funky, funny and feisty, equally at home in the heavenly ballads, Seventies’ soul struts and retro dance numbers.

Bill Buckhurst’s bright and boisterous direction brings out the best in all the characterisation and comical situations. At every opportunity, Alistair David’s choreography celebrates the glorious, ever-funny sight of sisters abandoning themselves to the joy of dancing, and Tom Slade’s band is in full swing and in the mood throughout.

Morgan Large’s set and costume designs are living it as large as his name would suggest, glittering finale et al.  The American Seventies burst out of his sets for club and stained-glass convent alike, evoking Studio 54 and Saturday Night Fever, Pam Grier and Shaft.

In a nutshell, Sister Act is divine entertainment to take you to musical heaven.  

Sister Act, Grand Opera House, York, until Saturday, 7.30pm plus 2.30pm Saturday matinee. Box office: