On Monday Owen's period of birthday celebrations finally came to an end with us attending SISTER ACT at the London Palladium that I had bought us tickets for! It was an enjoyable experience to go to the Palladium as I never go there too often as the productions always seem to be more family-orientated - says a lot about me I guess! It also tells you that I enjoyed the theatre more than the show. Oh I enjoyed the two hours-plus traffic of the stage, don't get me wrong... I just found the show vanishing from my mind as I watched it.
The trouble is the source film - okay the musical premise is fine for a story about a group of nuns being taught how to sing by someone hidden in their convent on a witness protection scheme - but the actual plot is thin, thin, thin - and it really can't bear the strain of a musical plonked on top of it. The inconsistencies in the story are too exposed on the wide expanse of the Palladium's stage.It was packed with coach parties and group bookings so the place was well buzzy... which is always a nice atmosphere to enter - just as long as they shut their gobs during the show. Sadly the teenagers behind Owen were not told this. However it is the kind of show that you really don't need to worry about missing any of it's subtleties.
A lot of money has been spent on the show but the script - surprisingly from two producer/writers from CHEERS - is a bit pedestrian. Alan Menkin has showed that he has an uncanny ear for a pop pastiche - most notably in LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS as well as his Disney cartoon scores - and here he turns in a couple of 70's old school soul numbers - oddly though only for the male supporting performers: the villain's three henchmen get the best with a Floaters-style LADY IN THE LONG BLACK DRESS, the desk-job cop who secretly loves the heroine sings I COULD BE THAT GUY with blink-and-you-miss-them costume changes into a Travolta white suit and back, and the villain gets the comic WHEN I FIND MY BABY - sadly they, along with the rest of the score, are lumbered with Glenn Slater's uninspired lyrics. The big production numbers are loud, rollicking and well-sung - it's just a shame they are a bit unmemorable - maybe the score duties should have been given to HAIRSPRAY's Marc Shaiman who has a genuine ear for a good, memorable tune.Patina Miller plays Delores, the lounge singer who witnesses a gangland killing and is hidden in a convent, and she has a fierce belt of a voice that does indeed lift her songs to dizzying heights. Sadly her non-singing performance is a trifle samey - I wasn't sure if it reminded me of Tina Turner doing a Bette Midler impression or vice versa. The one attribute she lacked was a genuine warmth.
Sheila Hancock played the role of the Mother Superior with a nice air of testy impatience but ultimately I wearied of her role which ultimately gave her nothing to do but come on and off the stage with a frown and a resigned not-too-funny putdown. I guess I just wanted maybe a LITTLE depth to these roles. To be honest, most of the time I was remembering Hancock was London's first-ever Mrs. Lovett in SWEENEY TODD.
In fact I found myself thinking occasionally of other shows - how Patina Miller would be good as Deena in DREAMGIRLS.... how it's about time we saw DREAMGIRLS on stage... how the aisle would be a good one for Mama Rose to barge down at the start of GYPSY... when are we going to see GYPSY in London again... OH I HAVE TO CLAP AGAIN!!
The cast certainly put their all into the production, a little too much really - there was an ensemble number for the nuns to tell Delores how they joined up which they belted out to the back of the balcony. The next scene has Delores taking them in choir practice - and guess what? None of them can sing. Like... duh.
The sets were lovely however! Whether using the famous Palladium revolve or with the use of sliding screens to give us ever changing vistas of the Convent, Klara Zieglerova's set was a constant pleasure as were Lez Brotherston's absurdly OTT frocks.
The show ended on a high after a rather truncated climax but what I remember most was the total lack of surprise in the show, nothing surprised, nothing original. It was all very well constructed but it was all quite soulless. If I had written this earlier in the week I might have been a bit more generous to it but in the meantime we went to see AVENUE Q at it's new home at the Wyndhams. Everything SISTER ACT labours for, AVENUE Q manages effortlessly.
Genuinely funny with memorable songs across a range of styles and when needed, lip-smacking bad taste as opposed to mere tackiness.
Where SISTER ACT goes out of it's way to make it's line-up of nuns endearing - salty nun who takes to rapping, fat jolly nun, young nun who is not sure of her calling - and failing because they are so paper-thin, AVENUE Q's line-up of felt and fur characters get you rooting for them with no effort at all!
It was good as well to see Delroy Atkinson in the cast of AVENUE Q as the hapless Gary Coleman. He gave a fine performance in the Ray Davies musical COME DANCING at Stratford East as the young Jamaican musician Hamilton and here he delivers in all his numbers.
Let the SISTERs ACT, get yourself to AVENUE Q if you haven't already - or even if you have!