After months of publicity, Sister Act The Musical finally opened at the London Palladium last night.
We're pleased to tell you Sister Act The Musical is a real cupcake of a show. (And you know how us Londonistas enjoy good cupcakes.)
Sister Act is sweet, fluffy, slightly sickly, and strangely glittery. If musical genres were flavours, it's a classic fruit and chocolate combo; catchy songs by Disney supremo Alan Menken, with neat lyrics by Glenn Slater in pleasing soul, gospel and disco styles.
Unlike the best cupcakes, however, Sister Act is also in possession of an oddly hollow centre, with an off-putting blob of vulgarity on top.
You'll remember the story from the film: Deloris van Cartier (Whoopi Goldberg, now played by the amazing Patina Miller) is a small-time club singer with big ambitions. When she witnesses her gangster boyfriend murdering someone, the police place her, somewhat incongruously, in a convent. The ensuing chaos is predictable but funny as a loud girl who likes a drink and a smoke meets nuns with quieter hobbies.
Miller shines in a great diva role; she's got fab comic timing, a voice few small-time club singers would know what do to with, and charisma to spare.
Indeed it's impossible to fault any of the vocal talent on stage. The supposedly tone-deaf choir are remarkable; Katie Rowley Jones' novice made us cry when she hit her first solo; the stereotyped men play for laughs, but behind the fun is more spot-on singing. Ako Mitchell deserves a mention: he has a thankless task as the put-upon policeman Eddie, but his performance of "I Could Be That Guy" blew us away.
But back to Sister Act's hollow middle: the plot's so flimsy, the characters so stereotyped, there's really nothing much rewarding about the show. The jiving nuns are boogying from the start; by the last act even the genius songwriting was starting to feel samey.
And there's that weird vulgar streak. As Mother Superior, Sheila Hancock lends the over-shimmery sparkly setting some seriousness; then ruins it with a god-awful line about the gangsters coming into the convent: "They had bulges in their pockets but I doubt it was because they were pleased to see me."
Then there's an odd point at Sister Act The Musical's heart: Delores realises she's happier being less selfish, living as a crowd (singing about being "part of one big Sister Act"). In the next song ("The Life I Never Led"), the novice Sister Mary Robert is asserting her independence, resolving to quit the convent, leave her mates to go it alone. Confusing, right?
Sister Act The Musical starts on a high, right from the sugary first number, and fails to build on that. By the end, you're hyped, overexcited, exhausted, clapping along to more glittery costumes, more dancing nuns, more magic from Miller, and more big show tunes. But when we gave it some thought on the train home, we couldn't help feeling Sister Act The Cupcake looks great, but leaves you with a little bit of a sugar low.
Sister Act is currently playing at the London Palladium. It's booking until February 2010: call 0844 412 2704 for tickets (booking fees apply).