A megawatts ensemble make Sister Act the Musical enjoyable if expensive at the Eventim Apollo
“And when you strut your stuff
and do your thing”
Truth be told, I don’t think anyone would have picked Sister Act the Musical to still be doing the numbers 15 years or so down the line, but only a fool would discount the star power of Whoopi Goldberg. Originally slated to appear in this revival, returning to the iconic role of Deloris Van Cartier for the first time since Lauryn Hill got Back in the Habit, repeated pandemic-related delays forced Goldberg’s withdrawal (although a third Sister Act film is now reputed to be in the offing) and this UK production reshuffled. Sandra Marvin took on the lead role for the show’s opening in Manchester and will resume it for the forthcoming UK tour and justify the booking of Hammersmith’s cavernous Eventim Apollo, Beverley Knight has taken the vows to become ‘Fabulous, Baby’.
My own journey with the musical has been an interesting one as the film is one of my absolute favourites (seriously, ‘I Will Follow Him’ is one of my happiest places). But from the Palladium to Goldberg’s previous guest turn as Mother Superior to the Cynthia Erivo-starring UK tour, it has kinda won me over with its own take on all this nunsense. The book by Bill and Cheri Steinkellner, with additional material by Douglas Carter Beane, shifts the narrative to 1970s Philadelphia, allowing the score (music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Glenn Slater) to be discofied and funked up and the storyline amended slightly to have lounge singer Deloris Van Cartier helping a choir of nuns to raise their voices (rather than teaching them to sing) while she hides out in their convent after witnessing a murder.
Bill Buckhurst’s expansive production wisely amps up the casting to give us a super-charged ensemble who do much cover the weaker moments in the book, for there are indeed some. But the irrepressible Keala Settle lights up Sister Mary Patrick, Lesley Joseph is irresistible as the grouchy Sister Mary Lazarus. and Lizzie Bea is charm personified as novice Sister Mary Robert, all under the baleful eye of Jennifer Saunders’ Mother Superior. The lot of them seem to be having a ball and under the stained glass of Morgan Large’s design, the warm-heartedness takes the production a long way (almost to heaven…). By contrast, the men of the piece get short shrift – the wonderful Clive Rowe as the under-written Eddie, Jeremy Secomb as the misconceived comedy murderous gangster, its hard not to want a bit more.
So it’s good for sure, but I’m not entirely convinced that this is a show that merits the megawatts treatment here which allows for a Super Premium ticketing band of £251.50. Beverley Knight is a superb singer and a good actress, though she doesn’t always feel the most comfortable in the more comic moments for Deloris. I don’t want to be that guy but I’d recommend checking the UK and Ireland tour dates to get better value for money and appreciating the talents of Sandra Marvin.