Is the musical adaptation of 1992 Buena Vista hit “Sister Act” one step closer to Broadway heaven or still lingering in commercial purgatory?
Retooled since its premiere engagements at the Pasadena Playhouse and Atlanta’s Alliance Theater in the 2006-07 season, the screen-to-stage tuner opened at the London Palladium on June 2, with the star of the film, Whoopi Goldberg, taking the reins as co-producer.
Directed by former Disney Animation chief Peter Schneider, the new “Sister Act” scored mixed reviews from Blighty critics, but lead Patina Miller, stepping into Goldberg’s shoes as Deloris Van Cartier, garnered praise across the board.
Here’s what the London critics said:
- Variety’s David Benedict was underwhelmed by the show’s book and sets but said with its high spirits “and nonstop dynamo discovery Patina Miller in the Whoopi Goldberg role, the cumulative effect is shamelessly and irresistibly entertaining.”
- Calling the tuner “habit-forming,” the London Evening Standard’s Fiona Mountford echoed praise for the star: “There can be no disputing the evening’s main draw: 24-year-old Miller, who fills this huge stage with so many bundles of star quality that another dressing room will surely have to be found for them all.”
- Michael Coveney in the Independent called Miller “a genuine new star, oozing confidence and sex appeal like it was going out of fashion.”
- The Telegraph’s Charles Spencer was a major cheerleader who felt the show worked better on stage than screen: “Frankly, what’s not to like, especially when you’ve got a chorus line of jiving nuns singing their hearts out ecstatically?”
- Ditto the Observer’s Euan Ferguson, who predicted the musical will be “this summer’s feel-good night out in London.”
Other key reviewers were less laudatory.
- “What was originally a fairy tale fantasy makes little sense in its new, vulgarized incarnation,” wrote Michael Billington in the Guardian, calling the show “noisily aggressive.”
- “A rather sweet, sentimental film has been hyped up and coarsened,” opined Benedict Nightingale in the Times.
Benedict perhaps best summed up the generally mixed feelings toward the convent caper: “Is ‘Sister Act’ great theatrical art? No. Is it hit entertainment. Oh, yes.”