After almost a year and a half in the West End, Sister Act the Musical finished its run at the London Palladium at the weekend, and I, after months of deliberation, finally got round to seeing the nuns in action before their ultimate curtain call; and the fall of my walls could not have come at a more suitable time, as the ladies were joined on stage by the original singing sister, Whoopi Goldberg.
Sister Act shimmied onto the movie scene way back in 1992, recounting the life and rhymes of Las Vegas showgirl Deloris Van Cartier (Goldberg). In the film, Deloris is forced to seek refuge in a convent after seeing her gangster lover commit an unlawful act. Confined to an unfamiliar godly jurisdiction, run by a hostile mother superior (Maggie Smith), the singer is obliged to find a way to fit in, which she does the only way she knows how… through song and dance.
Almost 20 years later, Goldberg was back in the habit, in London, but this time stepping into the shoes of mother superior, to trade verbal punches with her former self, played by West End newcomer Patina Miller. The result.. a highly respectable retelling of a ‘90s classic.
The Sister Act movies, although not favoured by all, turned out to be a hugely popular franchise, partly due to the appeal of Goldberg and Smith, but also due to the familiarity of the songs, which, in spite of their religious inclination, crossed spiritual borders and transcended into the universal arena. And so the pitch of a musical based on the movie, but containing a different cast and an original score, didn’t seem so perfect. However, having seen it, it didn’t alter my feelings towards the original films (two of my childhood favourites), although that could’ve been assisted by the fact that Goldberg was in it.
Goldberg was a great, albeit brief, addition to the cast, not only because she originated the role of Deloris, but because she joined the cast to play the older and wiser mother superior, which created a sense of both growth and nostalgia, in that she was sparring with the character she used to be, and with someone who looked like her version of Deloris.
Patina Miller does deserves some credit for her portrayal of the young, ambitious singer, as she led the nuns through many rousing renditions with ease, and proved she undoubtedly has the chords to gain many more roles; however, the incessant jive/Ebonics-talk, coupled with the overt confidence of the musical’s version of Deloris rendered Miller somewhat irritating, as we were repeatedly told how fabulous Deloris is. The original character was effortlessly cool and charming, and thus, didn’t need to convince anyone. But this isn’t necessarily the fault of Miller, who, in spite of this, sung up a storm.
The musical, as a single entity, was an enjoyable production, with a strong ensemble performance to warrant a visit with or without the backing of a motion picture. The soundtrack may not be the same, but each song was still sang with the same energy and gusto that is present in the films. Aside from the score, nothing else was really new, with the producers obviously not wanting to veer to much away from the original concept. But having finally seen the musical for myself, it’s fair to say that it wasn’t a disappointment. It was more of a crowd pleaser than a creative masterpiece, but it’s not the only musical to have fallen pray to popularity, so I’m not going to penalise it for that.
If you didn’t get a chance to see the musical at the Palladium, a UK tour will kick off in Autumn 2011.