If 2020 had gone to plan, this review would be over two years old by now, and would undoubtedly have devoted several column inches to Whoopi Goldberg, reprising one of her most iconic movie roles. Of course, we all know nothing went to plan, and it’s only now that Sister Act The Musical makes its (very) long awaited return to London, for a brief run at the Eventim Apollo, before heading out on tour.
Ms Goldberg was forced to drop out of the production due to scheduling clashes, although no-one appears to have told the box office, as ticket prices still reflect the presence of a genuine A-Lister in the cast. Nonetheless, it’s a testament to the producers that finally the show has made it on to the stage.
If you’ve seen the movie (is there anyone who hasn’t?) then you already know the plot. Lounge singer, Deloris Van Cartier needs to enter witness protection after seeing her boyfriend put an associate on ice. Friendly cop, Steady Eddie, here played by Clive Rowe, finds her sanctuary in a convent, but that means she also needs to pretend to be a nun.
With very little in common with the other ladies of the holy order, Deloris finds herself of use by taking the reigns of the choir. Weeding out the warblers and duff notes, Deloris transforms the Perpetual Sorrow choir into the hottest ticket in town, and inspires a resurgence in the congregation that draws the attention of His Holiness himself.
There are a few minor tweaks to the movie version, a relocation from San Francisco to Philadelphia, for example, and the ending isn’t quite as dramatic, but it works well on stage. What may upset diehard fans is that the most famous songs from the film don’t appear in the stage version, replaced, unsurprisingly, with a musical theatre soundtrack.
But Alan Menken and Glenn Slater’s score is fantastic, Deloris’s early solo number, ‘Fabulous, Baby!’, is desperately calling out for a full reprise somewhere later in the show. While as Sister Mary Roberts, Lizzie Bea, who wowed audiences last year in Hairspray, gets the incredible solo ‘The Life I Never Led’.
Beverley Knight stars as Deloris, while London audiences would no doubt have relished at seeing Hollywood royalty up close, the cast change was probably a blessing in disguise. Knight is one of the country’s foremost musical theatre performers, and it shows here with her soaring and unrivalled vocals. Not even the original Deloris could hope to match Beverley Knight’s performance.
There’s also an incredible turn from Keala Settle, while Clive Rowe gets a fabulous routine with the most wonderful costume changes, and unsurprisingly, National Treasure Lesley Joseph gets a rousing response from the audience. Jeremy Secomb makes for a convincing gangster, but it’s Bradley Judge as TJ that steals those villainous scenes.
Taking a higher star billing to Knight as Deloris, is another British icon in the form of Jennifer Saunders as Mother Superior. The role is played here with a little more malice than in the film version, and there’s not enough time to see the mutual respect between Mother Superior and Deloris develop. Saunders speaks more than sings, though does attempt the odd melody with varying degrees of success. Those moments are the weakest in the show, and feel dull in an evening of sparkles.
Because Sister Act The Musical is undeniably a feel-good sensation. The 70’s vibe and disco ball fever is impossible to escape, and the end of act one is wonderfully uplifting. By the time we reach the finale, the audience are ready to join the party.
2020 feels like a lifetime ago, but the two and a bit year wait seems to have been worth it, as audiences get back into the habit of going to the theatre, they’ll revel in the delights that await them at Sister Act The Musical.