Eventim Apollo (venue)
28 July 2022 (released)
28 July 2022
Sister Act’s tagline is “A Divine Musical Comedy”; whether the gods were for or against this latest production is debatable.
The omens certainly looked promising when producer Jamie Wilson started out on his journey with an idea to create a major London revival of this much-loved musical which debuted in 2010. Back then, one of the key selling points was seeing Whoopi Goldberg (the star of the 1992 original film) playing Mother Superior, the less than avuncular head of the convent who takes in on-the-lam nightclub singer Doloris Van Cartier.
Wilson’s bright idea was to put Goldberg back on stage but this time into her film role of Doloris. He flew to meet her, sealed the deal and started planning the rest of the cast. Jennifer Saunders jumped aboard as Mother Superior and the rehearsals began on 16 March 2020. And that was when disaster struck.
Four days later, theatres closed across London and plans to put on his take on Sister Act that year were abandoned. In spring 2021, it was clear that putting on a major production would be too risky and the show opening was postponed again. The second delay cost them their leading star – Goldberg became unavailable but stayed on as a producer – and the role of Doloris eventually fell to Beverley Knight for the London shows (with Sandra Marvin stepping in for the Manchester shows and on tour).
Knight and Saunders are joined by Birds Of A Feathers’ Lesley Joseph as choirleader Sister Mary Lazarus, the effervescent Clive Rowe as cop-with-a-crush Eddie Souther, the Tony-nominated Keala Settle as Sister Mary Patrick and Lizzie Bea as the ever-optimistic Sister Mary Robert.
Apart from casting, this Seventies-set musical comedy hasn’t veered too far from its original form. Barnstormers like Take Me To Heaven, Spread The Love Around and Raise Your Voice are present and correct while there are some heartfelt individual numbers like The Life I Never Led (sung poignantly by Bea) and Saunders’ I Haven’t Got A Prayer.
Bill Buckhurst’s direction ensures that comedy is kept front and centre. The look on Doloris’ face when she first hears the nuns singing and realises that they may need help more than she does is priceless. Likewise, the reaction by Mother Superior to her choir’s new gospel sound is a credit to Saunders’ comic timing. Joseph’s solo rap is a joy; she’s 76 now but can still demonstrate to a cast some of them young enough to be her grandchildren how to pull off a showstopper.
The staging is nigh-on perfect with the set switching from a church to a police station to a night club both quickly and fluidly. The lighting and sound make a huge impact to this show, especially during the group numbers. The production values are well above average for a touring show.
Sister Act’s journey to its latest destination may not have been smooth but the proof is laid out for all to see: this is still a smash which, with or without Whoopi on stage, is a bona fide hit.
Sister Act continues at the Eventim Apollo until August 28 2022 before going on tour around the UK.