Sister Act – better than the film?

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Website for the West End musical Sister Act
Website for the West End musical Sister Act

We went to see Sister Act at the London Palladium on a trip organised by Sainsbury Singers on 6 October. I had heard that it was quite different to the film and so it proved.

It was hard to fault the show. The first couple of numbers in the nightclub seemed a bit ordinary. But then things took off with the appearance of the nuns and the evening roared through.

One cannot envy anyone trying to fill Whoopi Goldberg’s substantial boots. But Patina Miller soon got into her comedic stride and, arguably anything she might have missed in terms of force of personality (which became less and less detectable as the evening sparkled on) she more than made up for with her singing.

Miller’s Deloris Van Cartier was brilliantly balanced by Sheila Hancock’s Mother Superior. Miller might have had the moves and the energy but Hancock had the class and an easily delivered repertoire of stage skills – a stunning reminder of how top class British acting cannot be bettered.

As a bit of a Dad’s Army fan it was good to see Ian Lavendar as Monsignor Howard but while his part provided plenty of fun punctuation, it was pretty much eclipsed, not only by the two leading women but also by some brilliant moments from the supporting roles and ensemble. The vocally acrobatic ‘Lady in the Long Black’ dress sung by the three gangsters TJ, Bones and Dinero (Thomas Goodridge, Nicholas Colicos and Ivan de Freitas) early in Act II being just one example of a crescendo of successful surprises served by the cast.

More predictably Katie Rowley Jones‘ novice Sister Mary Robert, Claire Greenway’s strident Sister Mary Patrick and Julia Sutton’s wizen Sister Mary Lazarus all served the characters expected, a fact that sub-consciously probably played a very important part of the musical’s success.

It was great to see all of the expected actors playing their roles on a Tuesday night; we have been a little unlucky with understudies on our West End visits of late and while some stand-ins can perform the socks off of ‘names’ on this occasion it’s hard to see how a stand-in for Miller, Hancock et al would have been able to deliver quite the same performance.

The theatre geek side of me was more than satisfied by the Klara Zieglerova‘s fluid and clever set and the very complimentary lighting by Natasha Katz. And Alan Menken’s music was very different to the film, but we enjoyed it enough to walk out of the London Palladium with the soundtrack.

No surprise the evening closed out with a standing ovation. Highly recommended if you want to emerge from the theatre with a broad grin.

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