How the Whingers long for Ethel Merman.
They long for her perpetually but on Monday they were specifically longing for her “the show must go on” spirit: La Merman apparently never missed performances and was famously understudied by Elaine Stritch even though she was already appearing in another show, so confident were they that Merman would never be “off”
Now anyone can get an ailment. And even the Whingers have succumbed to the occasional sniffle (usually when watching Imitation of Life). And Andrew is, of course, a slave to his feet.
Perhaps it’s something to do with appearing at the London Palladium in a wimple? Didn’t someone else don said garment at this venue’s previous show The Sound of Music and fail to do eight shows a week? It’s getting to be a habit. Ha ha.
For less than two weeks after opening Dr Theatre was obviously having a night off along with the much acclaimed Patina Miller who normally fills the lead role of Deloris Van Cartier in Sister Act leaving the Whingers saddled with understudy Debbie Kurup (and a couple of other substitutions for good measure – no reasons given for any of them, incidentally).
Andrew was annoyingly optimistic. “Who knows? A star may be born tonight,” he enthused in that idiotic Pollyanna voice he affects when trying to chivvy Phil out of one of his moods.
But Phil’s demeanour remained obstinately downbeat until the Oliver type audience (but with mercifully fewer kiddies) were warned by the taped voice of Sister Act “producer”/publicist Whoopi Goldberg to turn off their cellphones and open their bags of sweets now and not to make any noise unwrapping them. Wonderful!
His delight was short-lived however when Whoop went on to explain that such noises would disturb the cast- no worries about the audience being disturbed, mind you, just the cast who are clearly more important than a paying, irritable audience member. Phil was appalled and went back into his grump.
The plot of Sister Act is basically the same as the film although it has been transplanted to Philadelphia in the 1970s and much of Alan Menken‘s (who has more Oscars than any other living person) musical pastiche draws on the Philadephia sound while the plot is mostly Philadelphia cheese – Sister Act has no edge, no danger, no wit and no charm. Despite the best efforts of the cast it sags between numbers. There are some enjoyable performances (Ako Mitchell as Sweaty Eddie, Claire Greenway as the perky Sister Mary Patrick and Julia Sutton as the plucky old nun Sister Mary Lazarus).
Let us point out that the Whingers were only expecting Sister Act to be better than expected but their expectations were clearly too high. It was about 3/4 hour before either Whinger cracked a smile when the nuns launched into the witty “How I Got the Calling” number but there were really only about three other jokes which made them laugh out loud which is quite poor for a musical comedy when you think about it, especially one whose book is written by writers of Cheers.
It all seemed a bit laboured and could do with some judicious pruning – they should cut the Po-o-o-o-o-o(pe) gag, for example. It wasn’t funny the first four times after that it just got embarrassing. The story-telling is lame and at times even lazy – if Shank’s reason for killing Doloris is to eliminate the only witness to a murder he carried out, how come he is prepared to do it in front of a convent full of nuns (who he is not prepared to kill)? The Mother Superior (Sheila Hancock) sees off the baddies with a karate chop. And why did Deloris need to teach the nuns to sing in the first place when we had already heard that they could in a previous number?
Klara Zieglerova‘s sets are quite impressive and move around busily as though looking for a better show, although from our £25 day seats in the front row we didn’t have the best view of them and were a bit disappointed as we had been led to expect them to be fantastic. Perhaps they are from further back. Andrew enjoyed costume designer Lez Brotherston‘s pyjamas.
Occasionally the lyrics displayed flashes of humour but much of the lyrics were audibly lost in the big numbers. So they may have been funnier than we thought if only we could hear them.
Shelia Hancock is more benign than Maggie Smith’s more formidable Mother Superior in the film and her “conversion” to Deloris happens rather too quickly dissipating any tension between the characters.
Debbie Kurup seemed confident and sang well (and she has a lot of singing to do) but lackedstar presence needed to carry the show in such a huge theatre. Perhaps it would have been a different show in a less cavernous theatre or with Patina Miller or with a new script. Who knows? We shall never know, that’s for sure.
And if you’re wondering why the Whingers haven’t mentioned the third “name above the title” star Ian Lavender, well, his appearances are very brief, he has practically nothing to do and could probably be a less “stupid boy” and more of an Elaine Stritch by moonlighting in another show without even breaking a sweat. Bizarre. We did think about writing to the theatre claiming to be heart-broken Ian Lavender fans who had been led to expect from the billing that he had something to do but thought better of it as it might have resulted in the offer of free tikets
Anyway the show received an enthusiastic reception from a fairly packed house (although heavily papered, according to a reliable source. In fact of the many friends they know who have already seen Sister Act the Whingers are the only ones they know of who actually paid for their tickets – albeit only £25 for front row stalls day seats). Anyway, the audience loved it so what do we know?
“Do you want a souvenir brochure?” enquired Andrew as they left the theatre. “No, why? Do you?” retorted an incredulous Phil, missing Andrew’s attempt at sarcasm. “I don’t want a souvenir. I wonder if they have something to help one forget the show,” muttered Andrew.
But something tells us there is no need.