Review: 'Sister Act' Musical Resurrects Popular Movie
“Sister Act,” based on the hit 1992 movie starring Whoopie Goldberg, genuflected at the Fox last week in a breezy, amusing production of the Alan Menken/Glenn Slater musical. With a first-rate cast, Menken’s competent musical score and a script that offers enough entertaining silliness to excuse the simplistic plot, the production provides an engaging and lively theatrical experience.
Anyone who’s seen the movie will recognize the plot. Nightclub chanteuse Deloris Van Cartier (played with verve by Ta’Rea Campbell) witnesses nightclub owner Curtis Jackson kill a man. She tells the police, who hide her out in a convent where she proceeds to transform their poor, little sad choir into a rocking, bombastic powerhouse.
Meanwhile, Curtis sends his three humorous henchmen to find her with orders to kill her. Will the gang rub her out? Will Mother Superior finally accept her? Will the choir perform for the Pope? It’s not deep, but it’s fun.
Although Menken’s disco-oriented score is fine (including several good performances), none of the songs can match much of Menken’s earlier work. This is the guy who gave us “Little Shop of Horrors” and some of Disney’s biggest hits, including the musicals “The Little Mermaid,” and “Beauty and the Beast.” You’ll enjoy the music, but you won’t be humming anything as you leave the theater.
The performances are really what give the production its shine. Ta’Rea Campbell as Delores is a delight who handles both acting and singing duties with aplomb, and Melvin Abston as the nightclub owner imbues his character with believability. Most impressive was Hollis Resnik as Mother Superior, the only person less than enthused about the outrageous singer commingling with her pious nuns. With a rock solid, steady performance without unnecessary extravagance, Resnik’s admirable performance was that of a consummate theater professional.
In fact, there were many stellar performances across the board. Florrie Bagel as annoyingly happy Sister Mary Patrick (channeling Kathy Najimy), understudy Mary Jo McConnell as Sister Mary Lazarus, Richard Pruitt as Monsignor O’Hara (who transforms into Barry White with delightful results) and the henchmen trio of Tad Wilson, Ernie Pruneda and Charles Barksdale.
Chester Gregory as Eddie the cop—an old high-school classmate of Delores’ who got so nervous around her she nicknamed him “Sweaty Eddie”—excels in his solo, “I Could Be That Guy,” during which he transforms from the awkward guy-with-a-crush into a suave and sophisticated man about town, then back again. The transformation is helped by costume trickery, where his first police uniform is torn away to reveal his cool suit, which is torn away again to reveal him back in his cop uniform–musical theater magic.
Ashley Moniz as the painfully shy and meek Sister Mary Robert sings a remarkably powerful and tender ballad, “The Life I Never Led.” It wasn’t just that her voice was up to the task, but her emotional rendering of the lyrics was highly moving. Jerry Zaks keeps the show (mostly) clipping along. Anthony Van Laast’s choreography was cute and showed some originality, Klara Zieglerova’s scene design was at times baffling, and the remaining technical aspects were fine.
If there’s any message here, it’s in deciding the value of true friendship. But theater doesn’t always have to impart deep meaning and make a social impact. Entertainment for entertainment’s sake is perfectly reasonable. On that count, “Sister Act” fills the bill divinely.
For information on the remaining Fabulous Fox Broadway offerings this season, visit the Fox website.