It’s been pretty much open season on nuns since “The Sound of Music” and really there can be no greater irony than Alan Menken and lyricist whiz-kid Glenn Slater’s “Sister Act” following that venerable show into the Palladium. Needless to say London’s old variety theatre is now rocking to a very different mode of “Do Re Me” and the only mountain Sheila Hancock has to climb is that of sharing the stage with the soulful dynamo that is Patina Miller. There ain’t no mountain high enough to equate with that unenviable task (or the scary “height” of Ms. Miller’s belt) – though Hancock’s seasoned way with wry put-downs gives her a more than useful head-start.
“Sister Act” is actually a lot of fun – and it’s that rare thing: a musical that doesn’t stall in the second act. Funny how you can smell experience in a show. Menken, like Stephen Schwartz, is a master of style and pastiche and this score has a late 70s sensibility pulsing through every number. “Sweaty” Eddie (excellent Ako Mitchell) has a neat transformation number “I Could Be That Guy” which flips him from nervy desk-cop to Travolta slicker and back again and there’s a cracking trio (that’s a rarity nowadays) for the three hoods entitled “Lady in the Long Black Dress”. Hancock and Miller both get moody ballads with the soar-factor of the title number giving Miller plenty to devour.
But it’s the toe-tapping gospel numbers that whip up the expected frenzy of glitz and kitsch and definitely have your thinking “hail Mary” in the plural. The Protestants just don’t do camp like the church of Rome. Indeed the biggest reaction Miller’s Deloris gets from her sisters comes with her admission that she was raised…. I can’t bring myself to repeat the “P” word.
So is this the dress rehearsal for Menken and Slater’s “Leap of Faith”? They’ll be taking holy orders next.