Beverley Knight on returning to 'Sister Act' as Deloris Van Cartier
Olivier Award winner Beverley Knight is back in the habit and ready to raise her voice in Sister Act, which opens at the Dominion Theatre on 15 March.
It feels superfluous to say that, at 50, Beverley Knight is living her best life. Last year was a landmark year for the Wolverhampton-born singer, songwriter, actress and radio personality. She won the Oliver for Best Supporting Actress in a Musical for Sylvia at The Old Vic, released a new album, The Fifth Chapter, in September and kicked off the first leg of a tour.
"It was a great year, a really great year," she says. "And I knew it was going to be – I had resolved within myself that 2023 would be fabulous. I knew I was going to celebrate my 50th birthday, I knew we’d done a great job with Sylvia – there was just so much to look forward to, and I guess I manifested it because, with the album as well, there were so many great things."
And there’s more fabulousity in store for 2024 as she prepares to reprise the role of Deloris Van Cartier in Sister Act the Musical at the Dominion, starting in March.
Back in her West End habit
Knight returns to the lead role in Sister Act at The Dominion from March 2024, something she’s really excited about as it’s a chance to reunite with old friends.
"I’m thrilled that I’ll be back on stage with Lizzie Bea, who’ll be playing Sister Mary Robert," she says. "And I’m equally thrilled to be onstage with the gorgeous Lesley Joseph – I cannot wait to see her with her grouchy Sister Mary Lazarus, and her rapping, she’s just a bundle of fun."
Joining the cast this time as the baddie Curtis Jackson is the award-winning singer-songwriter and actor, Lemar – seen most recently on Netflix as Lord Smythe-Smith in the prequel spin off, Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story.
"He’s been a friend of mine for 20 years and because he’s done a lot of TV acting I’ve been telling him for years 'I think you’d like theatre, I think you’d adjust very well' and here he is!" says Knight.
But what else brings her back to Sister Act in particular? "It’s fun!" she emphasises. "Just the fun of it. Coming out of Covid people needed to go to the theatre and just laugh. We did that show successfully last summer and it was so much fun the first time, so I thought, why not?"
Made for the Stage
"When I was a kid at the Wolverhampton Youth Theatre doing my school production of Grease, I didn’t know that years later I’d end up on a West End stage," says Knight. "That wasn’t the plan." Plan or not, she took over the role of Rachel Marron in the musical version of The Bodyguard in 2013. It was her professional stage debut, earning her a nomination for Best Takeover in a Role at the WhatsOnStage Awards.
It gave her great confidence when taking on the role of Felicia Farrell in Memphis, for which she received a nomination for her first Oliver Award for Best Actress in a Musical. From there, the hits on her resume kept piling on as she went straight to another starring role as Grizabella in the revival of Cats at The London Palladium. In fact, Knight earned a second Olivier nomination for Best Actress in a Musical for her role as Faye Treadwell, the manager of The Drifters, in The Drifters Girl which had a short run at Theatre Royal, Newcastle before transferring to the West End.
It’s clear that whatever project she takes on, she’s emotionally invested in it. Take Sylvia, for instance. The dance/hip hop/funk and soul musical by choreographer Kate Prince was initially presented in 2018 as a work in progress, with Knight playing Emmeline Pankhurst, leader of the Suffragette movement in the UK and mother of the title character, Sylvia Pankhurst.
"It was something I was committed to entirely," says Knight. "I said I’m going to stay the course with this until the very end because I love it, it’s brilliant." Her vote of confidence served her well, as she earned a Best Supporting Female Actor in a Musical at the Black British Theatre Awards. However, it was not the end of her winning streak with Sylvia. She returned to The Old Vic’s production of the hit musical in 2022 – to win the prized Olivier Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Musical.
Knight seems to be able shift seamlessly between the concert stage and the theatre stage, but it does take two different mindsets.
"When I’m on stage in theatre, I’m very much one cog with many others and we all work together to make sure that the show is the star. And from curtain up to curtain down, there is no 'me', there is only the character. The blocking, the text and music, and everything hits its spot at exactly the right time, and there is no deviation – there is joy in repetition and I enjoy that discipline," Knight affirms.
On the Record
As Sylvia was wrapping up, Knight had already started some initial plans for her ninth solo album, The Fifth Chapter. "My mindset was like, 'right, Fifth Chapter, let’s go, let’s do this' – knowing that I’d now have the time, the space and the energy to fully commit to it," she says.
Her first step was to go into the studio with singer-songwriter Andrew Roachford and the producer and songwriter Jimmy Hogarth with some early ideas.
"We sat in a room, put the kettle on, made a cup of tea – naturally that’s the way you start every session," she laughs. "I played Prince’s 'I Wanna Be Your Lover' and said that I wanted something that was up and funky like that. Andrew had some chord progressions, Jimmy joined in and we started to craft a melody from that point. Melodies you can feel almost immediately – 'this is working, but, ah, this is better...' Lyrics are always the longer process for me because you always return to them and refine them."
Through her collaborations with an array of notable songwriters, Knight achieved a record that’s been praised for its variety of genres, including pop, disco, R&B, funk, gospel, northern soul and ballads.
One would think that after all she’s accomplished by the age of 50 that Beverley Knight would be ready to put her feet up and maybe rest on a few laurels. But her dance card for 2024 is already full, and there’s even talk of some film work that she can’t say much about at this stage. So does anything need to change? Does she have any dreaded New Year’s resolutions?
"To just keep being a better human?" she muses. "That’s in every way possible, whether it be my interactions with others, whether it be my approach to my work in music, in theatre, in film, in TV, in every facet of what I do and who I am."
Don’t most people just give up smoking or something?
Then she laughs and quickly adds, "Oh and try not to eat so many sweets. That’s the other thing. I do love sweets."
Sister Act opens at the Dominion Theatre on 15 March.
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Photo credit: Beverley Knight at the Dominion Theatre (main); Knight in The Drifters Girl (second image); Knight in Sylvia (last image). (Photos courtesy of production)
This article was originally published in the January 2024 issue of London Theatre Magazine.
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