This latest revival of Alan Menken, Glenn Slater, Cheri Steinkellner and Bill Steinkellner’s divine comedy has been a long time coming. Initially conceived as an opportunity to return Whoopi Goldberg to the role she created in the hit nineties film, the planned second coming fell foul of the pandemic. So, two years after its planned debut Beverley Knight is rocking the habit, and the Eventim Apollo, in Bill Buckhurst’s revised production. The production is not short of spectacle with Knight and the singing nuns bringing enough glitz to hold their own amongst the long list of performers who have graced the Eventim Apollo stage over the years.
The musical is fairly faithful to the film’s plot – having witnessed a murder Deloris Van Cartier is forced to hide out in a convent helping her ‘sisters’ find their voices as she finds her own. Although where the film features a soundtrack of sixties pop and soul classics (‘I Will Follow Him’, ‘Rescue Me’, ‘My Guy’) the musical utilises the considerable talents of composer Alan Menken (Little Shop of Horrors, Beauty and the Beast, Newsies – which makes its UK bow later this year) who has written a score which pastiches the Motown, soul and funk hits of the period. Beverley Knight relishes the challenges of Menken’s score, taking every opportunity to add embellishments and showcase her phenomenal voice. Jennifer Saunders brings her comic talents to Mother Superior (played by Maggie Smith in the original film). Her vocal talents can’t match Knight’s, and nerves were evident during her first solo, but as she settled into the role the mischievous comedic energy she is known for came to the fore. It is these ad-libs and additional comic moments which lift the character from the less memorable patter songs and give Knight something to play off. Indeed, Knight struggled to keep a straight face during this performance when Saunders told her she was ‘pitchy’ in their final duet.
Knight and Saunders are ably supported by a superfluity of nuns. Keala Settle, fresh from her West End debut in & Juliet, relishes every opportunity she’s given as Sister Mary Patrick but ultimately feels underused. Lesley Joseph (who will play Mother Superior on tour) raps with aplomb as Sister Mary Lazarus. It is easy to get lost in a sea of penguin dresses but Tricia Deighton’s Sister Mary Theresa and Lori Haley Fox’s Sister Mary Martin of Tours stand-out with some scene stealing moments. As Deloris’s love interest Clive Rowe delights in ‘I Could Be That Guy’ hitting the high (and low) notes as he nimbly navigates the stage, and some quick changes, in this Barry White infused number.
The Eventim Apollo is a huge venue so set designer Morgan Large and lighting designer Tim Mitchell work to draw the audience in, navigating the challenges of the wide stage’s lack of depth and ramping up the technicolour. Buckhurst’s direction is also suited to the space, lacking the subtlety of other productions it loses some of the comedy, and relationships aren’t fully developed between characters. However, the big set-pieces deliver and there is some enjoyable physical comedy (usually helmed by Bradley Judge, Tom Hopcroft and Damian Buhagiar). Ultimately this is an enjoyable show, featuring some great songs and cracking talent that will inspire you to raise your voice.
Playing until 28th August, https://www.sisteractthemusical.co.uk/london/
Reviewer: Clare Chandler
Reviewed: 27th July 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★