Wednesday, September 22, 2010

'Sister Act' Prays at the London Palladium - The Review

‘Sister Act’ is a very funny movie and did not appear to warrant a stage musical. I had my doubts about this musical succeeding. But it built an advance ticket sale of over five million pounds before opening night so maybe I was missing something. Even the poster advertising the show (pictured left) made me want to see it. It didn't hurt the name of producer Whoopi Goldberg was obviously placed.

The story remains the same. Disco diva Deloris Van Cartier witnesses a murder and is put in protective custody in the one place the cops are sure she won’t be found: a convent. Disguised as a nun she quickly finds fans amongst her fellow convent sisters and Mother Superior. When she turns her attention to the convent’s off-key choir, helping the nuns to find their true voices and breathing new life into the rundown neighborhood, her cover could be blown for good.

The 'god' guys
The result this evening was very uneven. It’s amazing that Alan Menken, composer of memorable songs for blockbuster Disney films (“The Little Mermaid”, “Alladin”, “Beauty & The Beast”), is responsible for many of the average songs.

To their credit, the musical team did not recycle the pop standards featured in the movie. The best numbers Menken composed are for scenes where the choir finally has their mojo. The title tune is rather touching. But the story seems to stop dead in its tracks when other songs are performed. This is obvious in the first act when it feels like it takes quite a while before Deloris is sent to the convent. At that point the story starts to move at a quicker but still uneven pace.

I may be in the minority as the crowd was quite enthusiastic during the entire performance. They were clapping their hands during the upbeat numbers and breaking out in riotous laughter. I did laugh too but just not as much.
The bad guys
Uneven extends to the set design and maybe the problem is the venue. The London Palladium boasts one of the largest stages on the West End. A production here can get lost in trying to fill the massive stage space, such as in the recent revival of ‘The Sound of Music’ (I still can’t get over that planetary piece of meadow that looked like a flying saucer). In ‘Sister Act’, a chase scene where the entire stage is filled with a massive black and white multi-level set with actors entering and exiting through multiple doors feels like it belongs in another musical.

There is one very original joke and surprise in the show and it has to with the appearance of the Pope which I absolutely love. Patina Miller is quite the trouper as Deloris displaying the energy to carry such a large show but she deserves better or rather better lines.

All production photos used for illustration purposes only.
A rewrite, some better tunes and a cohesive production design is in order for this show to move beyond its present venue. Until then this ‘Sister’ will remain in custody in London.

10/12/10 Note:  Press reports reveal that the book of ‘Sister Act’ will be rewritten by Douglas Carter Beane (‘Xanadu’, ‘Little Dog Laughed’) and new direction by Jerry Zaks. The remainder of the creative team remains intact. Cast is to be determined.



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