Whoopi Goldberg underwent therapy to overcome her fear of flying in order to attend last night’s (2 June 2009, previews from 7 May) West End opening of the new musical version of her 1992 film Sister Act. To help, Joop Van Den Ende, boss of Goldberg’s co-producers at Stage Entertainment sent his private jet to collect her and had an anaesthetist on standby on the flight just in case.

She seemed happy to have made the trip – and she made her presence felt when she joined the company for a bow at the curtain call. But there was no danger of upstaging leading lady Patina Miller, who stars as Deloris van Cartier, the role created on screen by Goldberg (See Also Today’s Review Round-up).

A standing ovation confirmed Miller as the star of the evening and Goldberg underscored it by pushing her role predecessor further forward into the spotlight before dancing off the stage, without saying a word, while the applause continued.

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.

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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).

For 1st Night Photos, our Whatsonstage.com photographer Dan Wooller was on hand for the curtain Sister Act at the London Palladium and for the after party held at Floridita, along with the company and creative team. Other first night guests included Jane Krakowski, Bruce Forsyth, Tim Rice, Jason Isaacs, Preeya Kalidas, Richard Arnold, Brian Conley, Les Dennis, Sinitta, Christopher Biggins, Scarlet Strallen, Julia McKenzie and Cilla Black.