Sister Act

Published June 3, 2009

Whoopi Goldberg was at the London Palladium last night for the opening night of Sister Act, the new musical based on the hit 1992 film in which she starred.

Goldberg is a co-producer of the show, but has left top nun duties to newcomer Patina Miller, who plays the central role of Deloris Van Cartier, a lounge singer with big ambitions who witnesses her mobster boyfriend, club owner Curtis Shank, carry out a murder. Ferreted away in a convent under the police witness protection programme, the fast-talking, exuberant Deloris – now known as Sister Mary Clarence – must blend into her serene surroundings under the watchful and despairing eye of the convent’s Mother Superior. But Deloris is not a natural blender and her irrepressible lust for living soon has the convent’s meek choir singing its heart out.

It is a simple plot but one lends itself well to stage adaptation, and the creative team have done the film justice with this hearty, boisterous, tightly-written musical played out on an impressive set at the London Palladium. Designer Klara Zieglerova must have used every inch of the flies to accommodate her staging, which moves smoothly from the hallowed arches of a convent to a downtown police station to the interior of a church complete with disco-style stained glass windows.

Composer Alan Menken, known for his Oscar-winning work on many Disney films as well as musicals including Little Shop Of Horrors, has created an original score which combines disco, soul and gospel, with some ludicrously catchy roof-raisers including Take Me To Heaven and Raise Your Voice. Glenn Slater’s lyrics have a snappy humour, evident in particular when the nuns tell Deloris about the moment they found their vocation in How I Got The Calling.

The talented cast in Peter Schnieder’s production includes Ako Mitchell as nervous policeman Eddie, who has harboured a crush on Deloris from their schooldays. His solo number, in which he laments his lack of confidence, is a wittily performed routine in which Mitchell segues swiftly from shy guy to soul seducer, accompanied by a bunch of rough sleepers who turn out to be pretty handy on the dance floor.

Chris Jarman, as Shank, must be the happiest, smoothest mobster in town and even his trio of hapless heavies turn out to have a soulful side. Sheila Hancock delivers a suitably uptight, conservative Mother Superior, while Julia Sutton as a rapping nun and Claire Greenaway as the endearingly infuriating Sister Mary Patrick, add more comedy to the show.
But Sister Act is a star vehicle, and in Miller the producers have, beyond a shadow of a doubt, found a new star. Miller’s delectable voice powers through the score seemingly without effort, and she has a warmth in her wide smile which balances Deloris’s self-confidence with a touch of humility. The moral of the musical, as Deloris discovers after the mobsters come looking for her, is that friendship is worth more than individual ambition. But Miller could be forgiven if some of her character’s substantial ego rubs off on her whilst singing Fabulous Baby; she is pretty fabulous.

CB

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