Sister Act, Palladium, London

Michael Coveney
Thursday 04 June 2009 00:00

Those wacky old nuns on Wimple Street are leaping about like nobody's business, as if this theatre's previous incumbents in The Sound of Music had been given a blessing to boogie. How do you solve a problem called Deloris, the lounge singer who's witnessed a killing? You camouflage her in a convent and round up the bad guys by flushing 'em out in a fit of funk.

The movie was a delightful surprise with its spiritual stand off between Whoopi Goldberg as Deloris and Maggie Smith as the mother superior, and a parish community was regenerated by the success of the new nuns' choir.

There's no such thing as restraint anywhere in Peter Schneider's production, which replaces the Motown movie score with a new disco-dancing song list by Disney composer Alan Menken that sounds like Saturday Night Fever crossed with the brown sugar theme tune from Shaft.

Physical momentum in the movie betrayed the model of this story's real inspiration, Billy Wilder's Some Like it Hot, here misinterpreted as "Nuns Miked on Heat". The nuns carry on as if transported to Studio 54, and Klara Zieglerova's set, dominated by a huge Madonna and surrounded by super stained glass windows, becomes a glitter-ball paradise while Lez Brotherston's costumes break out into a rash of twinkly stardust.

Trouble is, there's no starchiness before the starriness, though one can hardly complain along those lines with Patina Miller's gorgeous occupation of the Whoopi Goldberg role: this unknown 24-year-old from South Carolina is the real deal, a genuine new star, oozing confidence and sex appeal like it was going out of fashion.

Whereas Whoopi was down and dirty, Patina is a shimmering sheen of Diana Ross meets Barbra Streisand and she transmits enough electricity to power the whole of Regent Street for a year. No wonder Sheila Hancock as the mother superior caves in the minute she walks through the door.

Menken's music comes with some non-committal lyrics by Glenn Slater, and a script by the married Cheers team of Cheri and Bill Steinkellner that does its job without sticking around to be clever or funny.

Chris Jarman, Nicolas Colicos and Ivan de Freitas are three stooges as the drug-dealing hoodlums, while Ian Lavender and Julia Sutton chip in with cameos as the monsignor and the old convent habitué.

One shouldn't complain about any "original" musical score in the West End, but there's nothing really refreshingly new here even if you might feel like brushing down your John Travolta poses when you get home. "Sunday Morning Fever" is a better song title than song, but there are some noisy, driving pop anthems that make you wish you weren't in a theatre; it's show time, not musical theatre magic.

To 13 February 2010 (0844 412 2704;

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