Palace Theatre Manchester is taking us to Heaven
By Jay Darcy
Based on the film of the same name, which starred Whoopi Goldberg and Dame Maggie Smith CH DBE, Broadway musical Sister Act has began its huge UK tour in Manchester, ahead of a limited West End run – before continuing its tour.
She is Risen
Acclaimed musical Sister Act is back on the road. Yes, already – she gets around!
Whilst the stage musical often receives complaints for not incorporating the songs from the film (which were already famous songs), one cannot fault its most marvellous music and dazzling production value.
Like the film, the stage musical follows disco diva Deloris Van Cartier, whose life takes a surprising turn when she witnesses a murder. Placed under protective custody, she is hidden in the one place she shouldn’t be found – a convent! Encouraged to help the struggling choir, she helps her fellow sisters find their true voices as she unexpectedly rediscovers her own.
Past Casts: OMG
Before we get on to the star-studded cast (which varies a little depending on city), let’s look at some of the famous faces who have starred in this marvellous musical since its immaculate conception.
The original West End and Broadway productions had all-star casts, both of them headed by Patina Miller – who shot to fame after originating the role of Deloris. She has since won a Tony for Pippin and starred in The Hunger Games, Madame Secretary and Raising Kanan.
In the West End, Mother Superior was played by the great Great British legend Dame Sheila Hancock DBE, who has won an Olivier (out of 6 nominations) and been nominated for a Tony. On Broadway, the role was played by theatre icon (and Tony winner) Victoria Clark.
Notable West End replacements for Mother Superior include Whoopi Goldberg – the star of the film – and Olivier winner Sally Dexter (Emmerdale).
Denise Black (Coronation Street, Emmerdale) played the role in the first UK tour, whilst Cynthia Erivo played Deloris. Erivo, who is set to play Elphaba in the long-awaited film adaptation of Wicked, is a Daytime Emmy, Grammy and Tony winner – as well as a 2 x Academy Awards, BAFTA, Emmy (Primetime), 3 x Golden Globe and 2 x Screen Actors Guild Awards nominee. She was also nominated for a further Grammy Award. No doubt, Wicked will bring her even more nominations – if not even awards.
The second UK tour, of course, starred The X Factor winner (turned musical theatre star) Alexandra Burke in the lead role – who I have seen in The Bodyguard, Aladdin and, most recently, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.
The first (of two) US tours starred the late Hollis Resnik as Mother Superior. Notable theatre actress Lynne Winterstellar played the role later on in the tour.
Current Cast: Answered Prayers
Whilst the London revival was set to star Whoopi Goldberg, this time in the lead role – Deloris is being aged up – the pandemic hit, and Goldberg was not available to star in the show this year.
In London, the role is now set to be played by underrated songstress turned West End darling (and 2 x Olivier nominee) Beverley Knight MBE, who is just about to finish her Olivier-nominated run in The Drifters Girl. It’s pretty fitting for a soul sensation to be playing a disco diva, isn’t it?
The Manchester run is sort-of a preview for the limited (but anticipated) London run – before the show embarks on a huge UK tour. The Manchester run, then, has the same star-studded cast as the London run, save for the actor in the lead role.
Pre-pandemic, Brenda Edwards (The X Factor, Loose Women, Songs of Praise) was set set to play the lead role on tour (and at select shows in London). However, the role is now being played by Sandra Marvin (Emmerdale). Marvin might not have the same name recognition as Knight, but having seen her in Thunder Girls, I know she’ll slay!
Knight’s exclusion from the Manchester run is probably because she has not yet finished her contracted run on The Drifters Girl.
Whilst Goldberg has had to depart the London production, and Knight is not starring in the Manchester run, all is not lost, for 3 x BAFTA winner (7 x nominee) Jennifer Saunders (French & Saunders, Absolutely Fabulous, Shrek 2) is still set to play Mother Superior in London – and she’s now also going to be starring in the Manchester run!
Fellow sitcom star, Lesley Joseph (Birds of a Feather), is still set to play Mother Superior throughout the rest of the tour. In London and Manchester, she will be playing Sister Mary Lazarus (ensemble member Anne Smith will be playing that role throughout the rest of the tour).
Keala Settle (The Greatest Showman) is set to play Sister Mary Patrick in Manchester and London, fresh off a run of & Juliet,. Catherine Millsom will then takeover the role. I’m not sure why Settle is not doing the tour – perhaps she’s returning to & Juliet, or maybe she just wants to stay in in the capital (and book roles there).
Clive Rowe MBE (The Story of Tracy Beaker, The Evermoor Chronicles) is playing Eddie Souther, and Lizzie Bea (Hairspray) is playing Sister Mary Robert, throughout the entirety of the musical’s run.
Take a Pew
Featuring original music by Tony and 8-time Oscar Award-winner Alan Menken (Disney’s Aladdin, Enchanted) and songs inspired by Motown, soul and disco, this heavenly musical is joyous and uplifting in equal measures. A musical sent from above, Sister Act is the brilliant, must-see show which raises the spirits and warms the soul time after time.
Sister Act began its run at Palace Theatre Manchester on 27th June, where it plays until 9th July. It then has a residency at Eventim Apollo London from 19th July until 28th August, before taking a slight summer break. The UK and Ireland tour then resumes at Bord Gáis Energy Theatre on 20th September and is currently running until late January 2024 (yes, 2024, not 2023) – with even more dates to be announced soon!
So, come take a pew – or catch the show on the road!