Review Round-up: Critics Find Miller's Act DivineDate: 3 June 2009
For the screen-to-stage crossover of Sister Act , it took Whoopi Goldberg and her co-producers at Stage Entertainment a year to find and cast 24-year-old American newcomer Patina Miller as Deloris van Cartier, the part played in the original 1992 film by Goldberg herself (See News, 30 Jan 2009). And judging by the morning’s reviews following the glitzy opening last night (2 June 2009, previews from 7 May) at the West End’s London Palladium, the casting was worth the time and effort. It seems a new star has well and truly been born.
Transplanted to 1970s Philadelphia, Sister Act tells the story of disco diva Deloris, who, after witnessing a murder and being put in protective police custody in a convent, brings some soul to the church choir, much to the initial consternation of the Mother Superior.
The 1992 Hollywood film of Sister Act grossed over $200million worldwide and spawned a sequel, Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit. The musical – which, in an earlier version in the US, was seen in Pasadena, California in 2006 and in Atlanta, Georgia in 2007 – has an original score by Alan Menken, best known for his work on Disney films like The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast, with lyrics by his long-time collaborator Glenn Slater. The book is by Cheri and Bill Steinkellner.
The production is directed by Peter Schneider, designed by Klara Zieglerova and choreographed by Anthony Van Laast, with musical supervision by Michael Kosarin, costumes by Lez Brotherston, sound by Mick Potter, lighting by Natasha Katz and musical direction by Nick Skilbeck.
Miller stars alongside Sheila Hancock as the Mother Superior (played by Maggie Smith in the film) in a cast that also features Ian Lavender (Monsignor Howard), Chris Jarman (Shank), Ako Mitchell (Eddie), Katie Rowley Jones (Sister Mary Robert), Claire Greenway (Sister Mary Patrick] and Julia Sutton (Sister Mary Lazarus).
Overnight critics varied widely in their judgements of Sister Act overall, from champions who declared it a “triumph” that’s all at once “strong, funny and touching” to detractors who dismissed it as “hideously formulaic” “one-trick pony”. But when it comes to casting matters, there’s little dispute: “the best thing about Sister Act is the leading lady”. According to critics, Patina Miller has “personality to burn and a smile as wide as Wembley Stadium”, “bundles of star quality”, “a wealth of raucous energy”, “a terrific voice”, “warmth, humour, vivacity, “comic vitality” and “a funky, spunky stage presence”. As many critics noted, the show’s last resident was The Sound of Music; with the help of overnight star Miller – “she might have been unknown last night, but today all that will have changed” – it looks like long runs with nuns at the Palladium may indeed be “habit-forming”.