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Just divine! A habit worth getting in to: PATRICK MARMION reviews Sister Act

Sister Act: The Musical (Eventim Apollo, Hammersmith)

Rating: rating showbiz 4

This could be a first for Jennifer Saunders – and not just because she’s making her musical theatre debut.

Starring in the stage version of the role created by Maggie Smith in the 1992 film, it may be the first time the Ab Fab comedy diva hasn’t completely stolen a show.

Normally Ms Saunders can be counted on to make off with the Crown Jewels of any production like a showbiz kleptomaniac.

Here, though, the pleasure of that purloinment is quite properly taken by Beverley Knight, who more than lives up to her character’s signature tune Fabulous, Baby!

Beverley Knight (left) as Deloris van Cartier and Jennifer Saunders (right) as Mother Superior. In a first, Saunders hasn't stolen the show, with Knight overflowing in swagger and attitude

Beverley Knight (left) as Deloris van Cartier and Jennifer Saunders (right) as Mother Superior. In a first, Saunders hasn’t stolen the show, with Knight overflowing in swagger and attitude

Playing the night club singer Deloris van Cartier, who hides from the mob in a convent (a part incarnated by Whoopi Goldberg), Knight has swagger and attitude to go with her mega-watt voice as she warbles her way through a gamut of soul, gospel and funk.

She put me in mind of Whitney Houston; and at one point also ascends to Disco-heaven, like Diana Ross, in a glitterball moon. But the sweetest thing is the warmth of Knight’s sisterhood with the cloistered nuns, who at first sing like fire engines (look out for Sandra Marvin in the role of Deloris on the Irish and UK tour from September).

Naturally Saunders’ Mother Superior secures much of the mirth with rueful head shimmies and seasoned timing. When in private comms with The Big Fella Himself, in her divine torch song Haven’t Got A Prayer, she cheekily pops out a lady-shave and hip flask – but is surprisingly tender too.

Her Sisters in Christ are a crack team of dancefloor demons, with husky Lesley Joseph rough as shoe leather as the choir conductor who’s always wanted to sing funky bass.

When Joseph takes over from Saunders as Mother Superior on tour she’s sure to weave her own magic alongside Lizzie Bea as the ‘Postulant’ nun whose turn in The Life I Never Led is the best thing since Susan Boyle’s I Dreamed A Dream from Les Mis.

The entire company is terrific and the musical has become a very slick commercial operation

The entire company is terrific and the musical has become a very slick commercial operation

I can’t see it getting approval from The Holy See just yet, but Sister Act remains blissfully silly

I can’t see it getting approval from The Holy See just yet, but Sister Act remains blissfully silly

But the entire company is terrific. Clive Rowe is a hoot as the lovelorn cop Eddie Souther, adding comedy eye-rolls to a voice that combines Luther Vandross with the Stylistics.

And as the mobster sidekicks Pablo, Joey and TJ, Damian Buhagiar, Tom Hopcroft and Bradley Judge deliver a brilliantly cheesy spoof of the Floaters’ Float On – you know the one… ‘Aquarius, and my name is Ralph…’.

Since it hit these shores in 2009, the musical has become a very slick commercial operation and this vast venue is surely a temple to Mammon with easy-clean floors to cope with rivers of slopped booze in the stalls. But Bill Buckhurst’s shamelessly chintzy production transcends that, in front of a huge gothic rose window that flashes like a fruit machine. And he adds surreal touches, including the nuns disarming the crims with bell rope, dummy blessings and incense balls.

I can’t see it getting approval from The Holy See just yet; but Sister Act remains blissfully silly stuff and my advice is, as Saunders says, ‘get thee to a nunnery… and quickly too!’

Praying for success! Suzanne Shaw joins husband Sam Greenfield for an evening of biblical buffoonery as they lead the stars at Sister Act! The Musical press night performance

by GERAINT LLEWELLYN and CALLUM WELLS for MailOnline 

The cast of Sister Act! The Musical were preaching to the choir as the much anticipated press preview of this lively musical adaptation kicked off at London’s Hammersmith Eventim Apollo on Wednesday evening. 

Those in attendance included singers, musicians and professional dancers well versed in the art of live performance – and all were in thrall as principal cast-members Beverley Knight, Jennifer Saunders, Keala Settle and Lesley Joseph brought the popular 1992 film to the stage. 

Former Hear’Say singer Suzanne Shaw was among those in the audience, and she looked typically stylish in a black dress and oversized cream blazer.

The 40-year old was accompanied by husband Sam Greenfield as the joined fellow guests at the special event. 

Based on the 1992 comedy starring Whoopi Goldberg the musical stars R&B diva Knight as lounge singer Deloris Van Cartier, an unassuming woman who witnesses a murder and is forced to take on the guise of a convent nun when she is subsequently hunted by mobsters. 

Big night: Suzanne Shaw, 41, cut a stylish figure in a slinky black dress and blazer as she and husband Sam Greenfield attended  the Sister Act! The Musical press night in London on Wednesday

Big night: Suzanne Shaw, 41, cut a stylish figure in a slinky black dress and blazer as she and husband Sam Greenfield attended  the Sister Act! The Musical press night in London on Wednesday

Other guests included former Strictly Come Dancing professional AJ Pritchard, 27, who appeared in high spirits alongside his 24-year old girlfriend Abbie Quinnen. 

The dancer looked smart in a crotchet shirt which he layered over dark trousers and wearing his high-lighted hair in a stylish quiff, while Abbie turned heads in a gorgeous olive green co-ord. 

Choosing a natural make-up look Abbie let her blonde locks tumble to her shoulders in open curls, and completed the look with a gold pendant chain as she carried her belongings in a stylish black snakeskin bag. 

Heels: Slipping her feet into black platform heels for extra height

Sleek: The star wore her blonde locks in a sleek bob

Heels: Slipping her feet into black platform heels the songstress wore her blonde locks in a stylish bob.

Stylish: Accessorising with simple gold jewellery, Suzanne opted for a dewy make-up look as she cuddled up to her beau before taking their seats

Stylish: Accessorising with simple gold jewellery, Suzanne opted for a dewy make-up look as she cuddled up to her beau before taking their seats

Stylish: Accessorising with simple gold jewellery, Suzanne opted for a dewy make-up look as she cuddled up to her beau before taking their seats

Lovebirds: Former Strictly professional AJ Pritchard, 27, (left) appeared in high spirits alongside his blonde bombshell girlfriend Abbie Quinnen, 24 (right)

Lovebirds: Former Strictly professional AJ Pritchard, 27, (left) appeared in high spirits alongside his blonde bombshell girlfriend Abbie Quinnen, 24 (right)

Cute: The couple cuddled up for the cameras at the event

Cute: The couple cuddled up for the cameras at the event 

Smarty pants: The dancer looked smart in a crotchet shirt which he layered over dark trousers and wearing his high-lighted hair in a stylish quiff

Smarty pants: The dancer looked smart in a crotchet shirt which he layered over dark trousers and wearing his high-lighted hair in a stylish quiff

Matching: The silk ensemble featured a bustier with pleated detailing as well as matching high waisted trousers

Matching: The silk ensemble featured a bustier with pleated detailing as well as matching high waisted trousers

Glamour: Also on the red carpet was former Love Island star Amy Hart, 30, who was joined at the swanky event by a mystery man (right)

Glamour: Also on the red carpet was former Love Island star Amy Hart, 30, who was joined at the swanky event by a mystery man (right)

Woman in white: The reality star put on a very leggy display in a chic Broderie Anglaise mini dress

Heels: She completed the look with a pair of white sandals

Woman in white: The reality star put on a very leggy display in a chic Broderie analgise mini dress which she teamed with white sandals

Lover: Styling her locks into ringlets she accessorised the look with a beaded headband and long love heart earrings

Lover: Styling her locks into ringlets she accessorised the look with a beaded headband and long love heart earrings

Talking to MailOnline at the event, Bruno Tonioli ruled out a return to his Strictly Come Dancing ‘family’ following his exit from the show earlier this year.

The judge, 66, said that he had found juggling the British show and its American variant Dancing With The Stars shows too taxing after previously admitting the travel schedule took a toll on his health.

Referring to the BBC show, on which he appeared as a judge for 17 years, he said: ‘Well I always will miss it, it’s my family, but I mean we’ll always be friends and you never know what’s going to happen’.

Going on to discuss his return to the show he continued: ‘At the moment, you know it’s just as impossible, you know the situation is too complicated but they’re all my brothers and sisters, we’re all loving each other, you know, no hard feelings, they’re great, they do a great job’. 

But offering hope for Strictly fans he added: ‘You know what’s going to happen, no one knows what’s going to happen in the future, but at the moment I do the American show but I can’t do the travel, it’s impossible’. 

Peace: Gok Wan looked stylish in a nautical inspired ensemble

Peace: Gok Wan looked stylish in a nautical inspired ensemble 

Claire Sweeney, 51, showcased her youthful figure in a bright pink jumpsuit complete with racy key hole detail at the bust.

The outfit was belted at her svelte waist and featured wide legged trousers which showed just a glimpse of her gold platform heels. 

Carrying the colour story into her accessorises former Brookside actress Claire carried a gold clutch and chose matching jewellery. 

Hot pink: Claire Sweeney, 51, showcased her youthful figure in a bright pink jumpsuit complete with racy key hole detail at the bust

Hot pink: Claire Sweeney, 51, showcased her youthful figure in a bright pink jumpsuit complete with racy key hole detail at the bust

Disco Diva: The outfit was belted at her svelte waist

Golden girl: The wide legged trousers hid her platform gold heels

Disco diva: The outfit was belted at her svelte waist and featured wide legged trousers which showed just a glimpse of her gold platform heels

Pals: Claire (left) was joined by Loose Women's Linda Robson (centre)  and dancer Wayne Sleep (right)

Pals: Claire (left) was joined by Loose Women’s Linda Robson (centre)  and dancer Wayne Sleep (right)

Pals: The duo posed together on the red carpet following Bruno (left) announcing his exit from the BBC dancing show

Pals: The duo posed together on the red carpet following Bruno (left) announcing his exit from the BBC dancing show

Also attending the event, Love Islander Amy Hart told MailOnline hat she is still waiting for her boyfriend Sam Rason to propose. 

The reality star, 30, who went public with her relationship in 2021, revealed her hopes to marry and explained that she has not shied away from dropping hints.

Detailing her hopes to marry her boyfriend, she said: ‘It’s up to Sam. I’ve got to wait for him to propose. My hints haven’t even been subtle. We’ve been together like 15 months.

‘It will happen in good time, he’s a very nice man, I’m very very lucky.’ 

Fresh air: Donna Air, 42, looked effortlessly chic in in boat neck blouse and smart trousers all in warm natural tones

Fresh air: Donna Air, 42, looked effortlessly chic in in boat neck blouse and smart trousers all in warm natural tones 

Mr and Mrs: Brian Conley was joined by his wife Anne-Marie

Mr and Mrs: Brian Conley was joined by his wife Anne-Marie

Couple: Former EastEnders actor Danny Hatchard looked smart as he enjoyed an evening out with girlfriend Kerry Scouler

Couple: Former EastEnders actor Danny Hatchard looked smart as he enjoyed an evening out with girlfriend Kerry Scouler

Jokes: Comedian Sue Pollard put on a very animated display as she hit the red carpet

Habit: Drag Race's Vinegar Strokes donned a habit for the evening

Jokes: Comedian Sue Pollard (left) was joined on the red carpet by Ru Paul Drag Race’s Vinegar Strokes (right)

Showstopper: The musical also stars Jennifer Saunders, Leslie Joseph, Clive Rowe and The Greatest Showman's Keala Settle (Beverley Knight pictured)

Showstopper: The musical also stars Jennifer Saunders, Leslie Joseph, Clive Rowe and The Greatest Showman’s Keala Settle (Beverley Knight pictured)

 The musical also stars Jennifer Saunders, Leslie Joseph, Clive Rowe and The Greatest Showman’s Keala Settle.

The official synopsis reads: ‘Brace yourselves sisters for this sparkling celebration of the universal power of friendship, sisterhood and music. Sister Act tells the hilarious story of Deloris whose life takes a surprising turn when she witnesses a murder’. 

‘Under protective custody she is hidden in the one place she won’t be found – a convent! Disguised as a nun and under the suspicious watch of Mother Superior, Deloris helps her fellow sisters find their voices as she unexpectedly rediscovers her own’.

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