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Review: Sister Act (Dominion Theatre)

Review by Daz Gale


⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️


London has been blessed with the return of a joyful show as Sister Act hits the West End for the first time in 13 years. Having blown audiences away since this fabulous new production first debuted in Hammersmith in 2022, touring across the UK consistently since, would moving the nuns into the rather looming space of the Dominion Theatre be enough to take me to heaven?



Based on the much loved movie from 1992, the musical adaptation of Sister Act premiered in 2006 and hit the West End in 2009, enjoying multiple UK tours since then and a well-received London revival in 2022. It tells the story of singer Deloris van Cartier who witnesses a murder and goes into hiding in the one place she won’t be found – a convent. In the most unlikely of pairings, Deloris and her sisters help each other find their voices.

 

Bill & Cheri Steinkellner expertly take the story from the movie, tweaking it for the stage with humour and joy littered throughout but it is Bill Buckhurst’s direction that lifts it to God-tier levels with fun and flair in some playful and inspired choices. Filling the vast stage of the Dominion Theatre isn’t an easy task and one that not all shows that have played there in recent years have managed to do successfully, but Sister Act is a big show and it fills the space with ease, never feeling lost and always maximising the use of space, thanks to Morgan Large’s absolutely stunning set design, complemented beautifully with Tim Mitchell’s lighting taking us to church with gorgeous and versatile touches.



The biggest selling point of this production of Sister Act is its cast, and what a group of legends they have assembled this time around. Having played the role at the last London role in 2022, Beverley Knight is back in the habit as Deloris van Cartier/Sister Mary Clarence. One of the greatest talents the UK has ever produced, Beverley has gone from strength to strength since she made her musical theatre debut in The Bodyguard. Two years ago, her performance as Deloris blew me away but much has changed since then including an Olivier award for her acting efforts in but much has changed since then including an Olivier award for her acting efforts in Sylvia. The versatility in her roles has led to an elevated portrayal of Deloris– this time around, she has tapped into the character with more detail and an unrivalled intuition of how she should, would and could behave. The end result is something spectacular. With her inimitable vocals raising the roof at every opportunity, it is Beverley’s knack for comic timing, huge stage presence and a warm, authentic performance that connects with the audience that truly steals the show. Beverley has been blessed to play some phenomenal roles in the last decade, but Deloris van Cartier feels like the role she was born to play in a career defining and career best performance.

 

While Beverley Knight is front and centre, this is by no means a one-woman-show with the rest of the cast matching her in terms of brilliance, characterisation and star quality. This is none more apparent than in the sensational Lizzie Bea. Like Beverley, she too appeared in the show in 2022 and has remained with Sister Act ever since, touring it around the UK & Ireland. Having played Sister Mary Robert for such a long spell, Lizzie has created a performance so in tune with the essence of the character, it is riveting to watch. Perhaps the very heart of the show, she gets one of the standout moments of the show, delivering a masterclass performance of musical highlight ‘The Life I Never Led’. Anyone who has seen Lizzie on stage can testify to what a star in the making she is, and in Sister Act, more people will discover that for themselves.



Gavin and Stacey favourite Ruth Jones joins the show as Mother Superior in a perhaps unexpected but completely inspired casting choice. Ruth’s comic timing is second to none, playing the role with a swagger and often nonchalance that creates some of the most laugh-out-loud moments of the show. With the origins of the character tweaked to represent Ruth herself, she is mesmerising to watch whenever she is on stage, never failing to raise a smile in her portrayal. Lesley Joseph returns as Sister Mary Lazarus in a relatively small but immensely memorable role which sees the TV favourite get her funk on with some of the louder and most humorous moments.

 

It’s not that easy to swap a career in the charts to making your West End debut but Lemar makes a lasting impression despite limited stage time as Curtis Jackson, while Clive Rowe is another highlight as Eddie Souther, giving a versatile performance that at times is understated and others is larger than life. His showstopping performance of ‘I Could Be That Guy’ is one of the strongest of the night with a double quick-reveal one-upping Elsa in Frozen in a flawless piece of staging. Carl Mullaney is a comic highlight as Monsignor O’Hara, bringing some light relief in his striking stage appearances, while Bradley Judge, Damian Buhagiar and Tom Hopcroft make a fantastic group of gangsters with harmonies so tight, they could give the Four Seasons a run for their money.



The movie of Sister Act featured well-loved songs with tweaked lyrics. Who could forget 'I Will Follow Him' and ‘My God’? So some may be surprised to learn the stage adaptation features nun of those songs but instead boasts an original score. They won’t be disappointed though as Alan Menken’s music and Glenn Slater’s lyrics are fabulous throughout. Opener ‘Take Me To Heaven’ does just that, setting the bar so high, it becomes a hard habit to break. Quickly followed by Beverley Knight showing just what she is made of in the sensational ‘Fabulous, Baby!’, she also gets to showcase her endless talents in the titular 11-o-clock number ‘Sister Act’. Other musical highlights include Lizzie Bea’s aforementioned solo ‘The Life I Never Led’ and the rousing and uplifting ‘Raise Your Voice’. Alistair David’s precise choreography brings these musical numbers to life with great movement and keeping the playful nature of the show in certain respects.

 

The world can be a scary place at times, increasingly so of late, and sometimes you need a bit of unbridled joy and escapism. That is one of the biggest strengths of Sister Act – for a couple of hours you get to forget life’s problems and lose yourself in to pure euphoria. Two years ago I referred to this show as musical theatre Heaven, and that phrase still rings true, perhaps even more so, as they have reached a whole new level of genius in this production. Bigger and better than ever before, gorgeous staging and faultless production value makes this a a feast for the senses and a true visual spectacle. It is the cast that truly shine, though, in what may be the greatest cast you will see on a West End stage this year, expertly led by a masterclass performance by Beverley Knight. It’s not just their voices that have been raised, the standard of the show has also raised significantly since its last outing in a show that is quite simply fabulous, baby! If theatre at its best can raise you to new heights, this production of Sister Act well and truly took me to heaven – take my advice and get thee to the Dominion theatre while you can to witness this spectacular.


 

Sister Act plays at the Dominion Theatre until 31st August. Tickets from www.sisteractthemusical.co.uk

 

Photos by Johan Persson

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