Forthcoming West End star Patina Miller and composer Alan Menken were joined by a cast of singing nuns at Café De Paris yesterday to showcase the new musical Sister Act which opens at the London Palladium in May.
Sister Act, which features an original score by Little Shop Of Horrors composer Menken, will star American actress Miller as Deloris Van Cartier, the role taken by Whoopi Goldberg in the 1992 film of the same name, upon which this new musical is based.
Goldberg, who is co-producing the stage show, was not in London for the launch yesterday but greeted the gathered industry crowd with a video message in which she said the musical will not try to replicate the film. “And here’s why it’s not the movie: you could never replace me,” she joked.
Adam Spiegel of Stage Entertainment, which is co-producing the show with Goldberg, added that Sister Act will “capture the heart of the movie without trying to duplicate it”.
He added: “A year ago we opened Hairspray at the Shaftesbury theatre in London and the audience response since then is testament to the restorative powers of a great night out at the theatre…demonstrating to us that in these uncertain times people still have an appetite for terrific musical theatre.”
Sister Act tells the story of struggling club singer Deloris Van Cartier, whose life is changed forever when she witnesses a murder by the mob. Put in the witness protection programme, Deloris is hidden in a convent, disguised as a nun. There, she finds a new purpose in leading the convent’s choir in her own indomitable style.
Miller, who makes her West End debut in the show, told Official London Theatre: “I’m so excited but of course I’m frightened. But I think more than anything just really excited to go out there and show people, to make them laugh, you know. It’s going to be a good time.”
The actress from South Carolina trained in musical theatre in Pittsburgh and was involved with Sister Act – a version of which has already toured the US – for some time prior to her casting as Deloris. “It was my first show out of school and I was the understudy to the lead. They revamped the show and they brought it to London and I was over here a year ago to do the workshop and I just thought they’d just use me and then I’ll be fine, I’ll go back to my life. But I ended up getting the job in October so… here I am! It’s like a dream come true!”
Miller has big shoes to fill, but has the original Deloris, Goldberg, on hand to advise her. “She told me to just be calm and to be big, and to make bold choices. But she told me not to worry about anything, and I’m going to be fine.”
The 24-year-old, who is initially contracted to stay with the London show for a year, takes to the London Palladium stage in May alongside Sheila Hancock as the convent’s Mother Superior and Ian Lavender as Monsignor Howard.
They will be singing a disco-inspired score by Menken, the Oscar-winning composer of Disney films Pocahontas, The Hunchback Of Notre Dame, Aladdin, Hercules, Enchanted, The Little Mermaid and Beauty And The Beast. The last two of these received successful stage adaptations, with Beauty And The Beast winning the 1998 Best New Musical award after its London premiere at the Dominion theatre.
Sister Act has lyrics by Menken’s The Little Mermaid collaborator Glenn Slater – who is also providing the lyrics for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s forthcoming Phantom Of The Opera sequel – a book by Cheers writers Cheri and Bill Steinkellner and choreography by Mamma Mia!’s Anthony Van Laast. Former Disney executive Peter Schneider directs.
Sister Act opens at the London Palladium on 2 June after previews from 7 May.