Review: SISTER ACT THE MUSICAL, Dominion Theatre

Nun better: Beverley Knight and Ruth Jones lead the cast in a dazzling show

By: Mar. 22, 2024
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Review: SISTER ACT THE MUSICAL, Dominion Theatre
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Sister ActSister Act The Musical’s tagline is “A Divine Musical Comedy” but whether the gods were for or against the film or this later version is debatable.

The movie itself was directed by Emile Ardolino who also made the seminal Dirty Dancing in 1987. A year after the Whoopi Goldberg vehicle came out, he died with Bill Duke taking over for the sequel. Meanwhile, producer Jamie Wilson’s journey to revive the 2009 musical started off superbly: Goldberg agreed to come on board in 2019 to play once again the on-the-lam nightclub singer Doloris Van Cartier opposite Ab Fab's Jennifer Saunders as Mother Superior. What could go wrong?

Rehearsals began on 16 March 2020, days before the Covid pandemic closed all London theatres. Two delays due to lockdowns put the kibosh on Wilson’s plans to have Goldberg in the cast. She agreed to stayed on as producer and, in her place, Beverley Knight stepped in for the London shows in 2021 and 2022 (with Sandra Marvin stepping in for the Manchester shows and on tour).

Sister Act
Photo credit: Johan Persson

Knight returns again to the capital, this time with Ruth Jones replacing Saunders. Director Bill Buckhurst wisely lets Jones be Jones and she finds ample opportunities to express her innate Welshness. What the Gavin and Stacey star lacks in lung power, she more than makes up for in sheer charisma especially when throwing out the occasional “love” or giving Knight a tender cwtch at the end. It’s a welcome creative decision that is rolled into the script with the Mother Superior stating how she moved from Wales thirty years earlier.

Knight, for her part, once again pulls out all the stops. And then, just for fun, she pulls even more out to remind us just why she is so hardly regarded in musical theatre terms. The songs from Alan Menken (music) and Glenn Slater (lyrics) are a perfect fit for Knight’s soulful voice. Jones has the edge when it comes to acting ability (even if she flubs a line towards the end) but it is Knight who takes us to heaven and back on beauties like “Raise Your Voice” then takes it way down with the poignant title number.

Sister Act
Photo credit: Johan Persson

Beyond those marquee names, there’s a feast of talent. Lesley Joseph is once again the perfect Sister Mary Lazarus who goes from curmudgeonly chorus leader to a jiving hip-swinging ball of fun. Another mainstay is Lizzie Bea's Sister Mary Robert as the heart and soul of the nunnery. She has the strongest theatrical arc, her timid postulant blossoming after arguably Sister Act’s strongest song “The Live I Never Led”.

Newcomer Lemar has little to work with as the villainous Curtis but he does well on the number “When I Find My Baby” in which he details exactly what he will do to Doloris when he catches up with her (and it’s nothing romantic). Clive Rowe gives solid support as lovelorn cop “Steady” Eddie Souther with a magnificent costume change during “I Could Be That Guy”.

Sister Act
Photo credit: Johan Persson

This Sister Act isn’t a musical which extends the premise of the 1992 film too much. Its saintly virtues lie in how it emphasises the inspiring camaraderie that was glazed over somewhat in the Nineties by the frankly ludicrous storyline and Goldberg’s shameless showboating. Remakes are generally viewed as Bad Things, barrel-scraping money makers there purely to squeeze as much cash as possible from nostalgic fans. In this case, though, Wilson and Buckhurst have improved on Ardolino’s creation, mostly thanks to the work of a sterling cast, Menken and Slater's songs and Morgan Large’s ingenious set.

Ditch the DVD and pull up a seat for a show which will stand the test of time better than its source material.

Sister Act The Musical continues until 31 August with cast changes from 10 June.

Photo credit: Johan Persson




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