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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Sister Act
Palladium        Summer 2009 - Autumn 2010 (Revived with different casts 2022 and 2024)

Sister Act is, for all its rockin' beat, a delightfully old-fashioned musical comedy, full of good songs, attractive performances and loads of glitz and glamour - a real Good Night Out that can equally satisfy the once-a-year and the once-a-week theatregoer.

It's based, of course, on the 1992 film in which Whoopie Goldberg played a saloon singer hiding from gangsters in an urban convent and, after the expected culture-shock gags, taking over the choir, giving it a gospel beat, and saving the impoverished parish.

(As Goldberg happily admits, she only got the role because Bette Midler turned it down, but she ran with it through a sequel, and is the producer of this stage version.)

While the film used a mix of established pop and gospel music, adapters Cheri and Bill Steinkellner have set it in 1978 and given it a definite disco flavour, with new songs by Alan Menken and Glenn Slater (both with extensive, mainly Disney credits).

Menken's music is good, with a happy disco beat to most of it, but it is Slater's lyrics that really shine,with a sly wit that repeatedly catches you by surprise.

There's a funny song in which the nuns describe how they first heard the call ('I had a revelation when I skipped my medication'), and a torch song for the bad guy in which he longs for the girl and for the many ways he'll murder her when he finds her.

Wit and inventiveness run through the whole show, as when the nerdy little desk cop with the squeaky voice drops it a velvet octave to croon a love song (and gets a couple of very funny quick costume changes in the process), or when the comic assistant-baddies try to think up ways to chat up a nun.

One of the sweetest songs, the choir's prayer before a big performance, has the potential of becoming a show business anthem.

But most of all there's the infectious fun of the newly-rocking choir, especially when they keep switching to ever-glitzier habits and the church's stained glass windows start flashing like a disco floor to the beat of newly-invented disco-hymns like Sunday Morning Fever.

Newcomer Patina Miller steps into Whoopie Goldberg's disco boots, wobbles just a bit at the start, but very quickly gets her balance and takes over the stage like a real star.

She's young and attractive, she can really belt out a song, and she's fun to watch, especially when she starts shaking her booty under the habit and inspiring the others to do likewise.

Sheila Hancock is droll as the disapproving Mother Superior, and Claire Greenway, Julia Sutton and Katie Rowley Jones fun as, respectively, the over-enthusiastic nun, the raunchy older one and the shy young novice.

Chris Jarman is appropriately menacing as the bad guy and Ako Mitchell loveable as the nerdy good guy.

Director Peter Schneider and choreographer Anthony Van Laast mainly keep things moving - and move they do, through an evening that is sheer uninterrupted fun the way a musical is supposed to be.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of  Sister Act - Palladium 2009