‘Sister Act: The Musical’ in London: What did the critics think?

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There’s something about singing nuns that just seems to have endless appeal to creators of musicals. London was treated to the latest incarnation of the genre, ‘Sister Act: The Musical,’ which had its start at the Pasadena Playhouse. (Charles McNulty’s review is here)

Based on the 1992 hit film starring Whoopi Goldberg (one of the musical’s producers), ‘Sister Act’ follows the antics of nightclub singer Delores Van Cartier, who takes haven in a convent after witnessing her gangster boyfriend commit a murder. In London, 24-year-old Patina Miller took on Goldberg’s role, to mostly rave reviews. Staged by former Disney Theatricals chief Peter Schneider, the musical opened at the Palladium in London last night with Goldberg in attendance.

So what did the critics think? Continue reading below (and hear a song from the musical).

— Lisa Fung

Caption: A scene from ‘Sister Act: The Musical.’ Credit: Richard Young / Rex Features

Benedict Nightingale at the Times of London gave the production three out of five stars, saying: ‘There’s less deft comedy, but much more music, most of it indebted to the 1970s, where the action is now set. That lets Alan Menken, the composer, have a lot of catchy fun with period rock and disco, even parodying a famous number with a rousing chorus for early Mass, Sunday Morning Fever. And that lets Patina Miller display the first of her star qualities, a terrific voice. Add warmth, humour, vivacity — and you’ve a star who lacks Whoopi’s wry vulnerability but adds dazzle to the razzle around her.’


Charles Spencer at the Telegraph raves about the musical: ‘Based like most new musicals these days on an old movie, ‘Sister Act’ proves more enjoyable on stage than it did on film.
The book, by ‘Cheers’ writers Cheri and Bill Steinkellner, is strong, funny and touching. And the disco-inspired score by Disney favourite Alan Menken, with neat lyrics by Glenn Slater, is a cracker. Frankly, what’s not to like, especially when you’ve got a chorus line of jiving nuns singing their hearts out ecstatically?’

Fiona Mountford of the Evening Standard also praised the show, giving it a four-star rating, with a few caveats: ‘Before Peter Schneider’s production builds up the unstoppable head of momentum that led to the quickest standing ovation I’ve ever seen on a West End first night, there are some dubious early moments.... There can be no disputing the evening’s main draw: 24-year-old Miller, who fills this huge stage with so many bundles of star quality that another dressing room will surely have to be found for them all.’

Less enamored was Michael Billington of the Guardian, offering only two stars: ‘What was originally a fairytale fantasy, however, makes little sense in its new, vulgarised incarnation. What we have here is a show that feels less like a personally driven work of art than a commercial exploitation of an existing franchise. Alan Menken’s music admittedly has a pounding effectiveness and the opening number, ‘Take Me to Heaven,’ is skilfully turned into a hymn to religious, rather than sensual, ecstasy.’

And an admittedly cranky Quentin Letts of the Daily Mail had some issues with the singing nuns: ‘Call me a miserable old monk but I hated ‘Sister Act.’ I hated its artistic laziness, its predictability, its incuriosity, its idea that disco is divine and that spirituality can never be found in discreet and dignified worship. This noisy, pumpy, insistently American musical will doubtless be a solid summer hit for the Palladium…. Hideously formulaic. Musical by numbers. Yuck, yuck, yuck.’