Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves (little red company)
Brisbane Powerhouse, Powerhouse Theatre
February 17 – 20
When last in New York for a bit of Broadway, I was lucky enough to attend a Sunday gospel mass in Harlem. It was one of my most incredibly joyous travel experiences, back to which experience of the little red company’s “Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves”, transported me back in sound and sentiment. Indeed, the show’s relive of the joy of the “Sister Act” soundtracks (appropriately in the first film’s 30th anniversary year) is sure to fill all in its audience with the light of a happy day.
The show begins with our favourite new girl band of performers (Angela Fabian, Irena Lysiuk, Prinnie Stevens and Alisha Todd) taking us to church with ‘Amazing Grace’. Lavishly costumed by designer Gail Sorronda, these sisters are certainly doing it for themselves as they preach the gospel according to Sister Mary Clarence (aka nightclub lounge singer Deloris Van Cartier) under a stained glass imaged backdrop.
Alex Van den Broek’s vocal arrangements not only acknowledge audience nostalgia for the iconic film franchise, but balance this with some interesting new momentum builds in Peggy March’s ‘I Will Follow Him’, for example, performed by the nuns’ chorus for the Pope in the original film. Also in support of the on-stage dynamism are the four apostles of music, Mik Easterman (drums), JaZZella (guitars), Michael Manikus (piano), OJ Newcomb (bass) who appropriately provide pathos or energy as needed to enhance the diverse musical program.
A gentle share of India Arie’s plaintiff balad, ‘I Am Light’, in which the four holy queens are joined by JaZZella in tender guitar accompaniment, allows an opportunity for Todd to take the lead in slowing things down, adding a richness to the tapestry of the show’s unfolding. And as the songstress share personal anecdotes as to their own journeys, including the teachers who nurtured them along the way, the result is touching but also essentiality celebratory.
Director Naomi Price and co-creator Adam Brunes have crafted a celebratory and spirit-lifting show that effectively balances sentiment and humour. And it is wonderful to see the serenely-voiced Lysiuk showing her vivacious comic side, to repeated hilarious effect, especially in her appropriation of classic Kathy Najimy et al interjections in a bouncy ‘My Guy’ (as ‘My God’).
The vocal talents of all four performers are undeniable. The celestial cast of divine divas harmonise beautifully, especially in an cappella ‘How Great Thou Art’ hymn lead in to an upbeat ‘Rescue Me’. And, together, they sizzle in testimony of a burning love in ‘Heatwave’. Fabian has a powerhouse voice and Stevens smooth vocals are elevated by a commanding, sassy stage presence that sees her leading ‘Oh Happy Day’ into an infectious congregation clap-along highlight.
With catchy heaven-sent hits from Diana Ross and the Supremes, Lauryn Hill and Tina Turner, “Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves”, is stacked with joyful joyful moments to leave audiences holy satisfied in understanding that, as its early ‘Dancing in the Street’ number proclaims, all we need is music, sweet music. And in trademark little red company tradition, there is also some mass audience interaction and larger-scale surprises, along with announcement of their next outing, “Skyfall” in build upon their 2021 Brisbane Festival cabaret show success. Amen to that!
Photos c/o – Steph Do Rozario