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Sister Act review: ‘a laugh riot’

Simon Button also writes "there’s a lot of heart in this celebration of girl power".

By Alastair James

Words: Simon Button; pictures: Manuel Harlan

It’s probably divine intervention that Whoopi Goldberg had to bow out of reprising her role as Deloris Van Cartier in Sister Act at London’s Eventim Apollo.

Goldberg is a terrific comedienne and the part had been rejigged to reflect her age (she’s 66 now but was in her 30s when the film came out in 1991) but she’s merely OK as a singer, so there’s no way she would have raised the roof the way Beverley Knight does every time she opens her mouth to belt out a tune.

Beverley Knight and Jennifer Saunders

I’m a big Bev fan. She’s one of our finest ever soul singers and has proven her dramatic chops in The Bodyguard, Memphis, and The Drifters Girl but can she also be funny? You bet your ass she can.

As the whirlwind of energy and sass who ends up having to pretend to be a nun, she’s a very funny lady indeed and a force of nature who rightly describes herself in the song ‘Fabulous, Baby!’ as “a house-rocking vision in hot shocking pink!”

The songs in the show, by Alan Menken and Glenn Slater, are different from the film. There’s no ‘I Will Follow Him’ but the new tunes are really strong – a mix of delirious disco, Motown, and Marvin Gaye pastiches alongside more traditional character numbers.

The cast of Sister Act

And the story framework is the same: Nightclub singer Deloris witnesses a murder by her gangster boyfriend and the police place her in a convent under the witness protection programme, much to the annoyance of the crotchety Mother Superior.

The other nuns grow to love her, though, as she whips the woefully tone-deaf choir into a girl group worthy of performing for the Pope, whilst her ex-beau and his henchmen are trying to track her down.

The supporting cast offers an abundance of riches. Jennifer Saunders is wonderfully droll as the flabbergasted Mother Superior and does some nice speak-singing. Lizzie Bea, so good in the recent Hairspray revival, is amazing as the wallflower Sister Mary Robert who finds her voice through song.

The Greatest Showman standout Keala Settle gets to flex her fantastic voice as the more outgoing Sister Mary Patrick. Clive Rowe is a soulful sweetheart as the cop who yearns for Deloris. And Lesley Joseph’s rapping Sister Mary Lazarus is a hilarious scene-stealer.

There are a few flaws with the pacing and some of the subtler moments get lost in such a huge auditorium. But it’s a technicolor dream of a show with disco ball lighting, heavenly sets, and at one point a bunch of nuns whirling around in all the colours of the Pride flag.

And it isn’t just a laugh riot. There’s a lot of heart in this celebration of girl power and I defy you not to cry when Knight sings the title song. She’s fabulous, baby.

Rating: 4/5

Sister Act is at the Eventim Apollo until August 28th. For more information visit and for great deals on tickets and shows click here.