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Sister Act, first impressions .. 18 June 2024
Lee Mead, Sister Act - London 2024 I'm not long home from Sister Act's Gala Night at the Dominion, welcoming Alexandra Burke (Deloris Van Cartier) and Lee Mead (Eddie Souther) to the West End cast and celebrating their whole fabulous company. Still buzzing from the incredible atmosphere before, during and after the show, I thought I'd try to record my first impressions before I sleep - as always, not a review (those you can read here), just my thoughts, as theatre lover and Lee fan.

Let me start by stepping back a week - to Lee's first show last Monday, taking over the role from Clive Rowe. I was prepared by the press launch photos for Lee's 1970s styling, created largely by the first full wig he's had to wear since his time in Phantom of the Opera 18 years ago ... but I was not prepared for just how well he'd wear it! As you'll see from the production photos shared on this page (credit : Johan Persson), Lee rocks the finished look!

His performance that night was spot on, as was Alexandra's. I always think it must be so hard to slot into a well-established company, to find your place and make it your own without disrupting the existing dynamic. But that's exactly what Lee did - inhabiting the character, as we've seen him do so often before. His love of physical comedy and his impeccable comic timing are both much in evidence, but I think it's the way he shows this big-hearted cop's vulnerability - accepting his 'Steady Eddie' role in life while still dreaming of being 'that guy' - that speaks to me most clearly. One review I've seen mentions a lack of passion... for me that rather misses the point - his yearning for Deloris is clear, but it's tempered in their interactions by his total lack of expectation. It's what sets him apart from the other male characters who, Monsignor O'Hara (Carl Mullaney) apart, see themselves as god's gift to women everywhere! And vocally... yeah, the man has it all going on.

Lee Mead, Sister Act - London 2024 I've seen Sister Act twice before, most recently nearly 10 years ago at the lovely Kilworth House Theatre, but I have the memory of a goldfish these days (and that may be doing a disservice to goldfish), so while I recalled the basic plot, there were many elements that came as a complete and joyful surprise - I count foremost amongst these Lee's big number in the first half, I Could Be That Guy. If you haven't seen it yet, you deserve the same experience, so I shall say no more save that tonight's gala audience cheered loud, long and often, leaving Lee in no doubt just how much they LOVED it!

OK, both sleep and work intervened before I could consider the production as a whole... so some hours later, the first thing that comes to mind is the brilliant cast. I couldn't help hearing the chatter pre-show 'ooh, I didn't know [xxx] is in it', 'oh wow, I love [xxx]' and at interval 'was that [xxx}?' ... the cast is certainly well-endowed with 'names' who in some cases are best known for their music and TV careers, but without exception, they bring far more to the show than their name and fit right in with this super-talented company.

Alexandra Burke, returning to the role of Deloris, brings plenty of sass and her beautiful voice oozes soul, serving Alan Menken and Glenn Slater's songs very well indeed. Ruth Jones, as Mother Superior (until 3 August), wields her dry wit with deadly accuracy, while her casting allows knowing and very funny nods both to her Welsh heritage and her role in Gavin & Stacey, the series she co-wrote and for which she is still best known.

Lee Mead, Sister Act - London 2024 Lemar plays Deloris' gangster lover (Curtis Jackson) with an easy menace and great comic touch, his vocal in When I Find My Baby readily showing why he's not long celebrated 20 successful years in the music business. Lesley Joseph (Sister Mary Lazurus, taking over as Mother Superior from 5 August) is hilarious and in danger of stealing the whole show, but she has competition from Lizzie Bea (Sister Mary Robert), whose The Life I Never Led is just glorious, and from Alison Jiear (Sister Mary Patrick) and from Lori Haley Fox (Sister Mary Martin of Tours) and... well, I could go on. I just realised that, Lee and Lemar aside, I've talked only about the women in the cast, but the fact that this show has so many great roles for women, young and old, is for me one of its great joys. Rest assured, though, the men are fabulous too!

The energy of this show is high all on its own, but the gala night audience raised it to a whole different level - I'm hoping the cast could feel that, I'm pretty sure they could hear it! Either way, their performances were also off the scale - and by the time we reached the finale, the audience were primed to go wild in appreciation... Pope Paul VI appeared, waving from his Popemobile, then sliding gently out of the cab and strolling off stage... it took me a moment to realise the Popemobile was still in situ, the sisters determinedly dancing around it until, one by one, they quietly disappeared into the wings, leaving only the few at the front of the stage who clearly couldn't see the signals. Eventually the message reached them, the curtain came down and the house lights up as the announcement to remain in our seats was made. Lee is no stranger to show stops on press night - thankfully this technical hitch came near the end and while I half-expected a request for 'any golf buggy mechanics in the house', it was only a few short minutes until the lights dimmed again and it was on with the end-of-show!

As I tweeted to Lee after his first night, this is a fabulous, funny, feel-good show and I happily anticipate many more visits during its short London run. It is also an absolute joy to see Lee in a comedy role - we've often seen in his concerts, and sometimes in Lofty, his instinctive use of physical comedy and I'm so glad that West End audiences will now see this particular string to his bow.

Although recording is strictly prohibited during the main body of the show, the pre-show announcement does make an exception for the finale, so clips of this on social media abound. I share my own below, with apologies for the abrupt end - I could wait no longer to put my phone away and my hands together to give this amazing cast the applause they so richly deserve. The West End run ends on 31 August, though Lee's last show will be on Friday 30 August and he will also be away 27 July to 3 August, best availability towards the end of the run - book here!

Published: 18/06/2024
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