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Sunday, 01 May 2011 12:22

Broadway Review: SISTER ACT

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Patina Miller and the cast of SISTER ACT Patina Miller and the cast of SISTER ACT Photo: Joan Marcus
Sister Act answers the question theatre queens everywhere have been asking for generations, "what if nuns had sequins?" This show has more sequined habits than either Nunsense’s Dan Goggin or The Divine Sister’s Charles Busch could imagine... together.  These nuns sparkled so much that the other nun on Broadway without sequins (Kathleen Turner) went home.

Based on the 1992 film of the same title starring Whoopi Goldberg (incidentally one of the producers behind this musical) the show quickly establishes the premise; Las Vegas lounge singer Deloris Van Cartier (Patina Miller) is on the lamb after seeing her mobster boy-friend ice somebody.  She is forced into seeking protection from the police who decide to hide her with the sisters at Queen of Angels Cathedral in south Philadelphia as Sister Mary Clarence.  While there she restores attendance and lifts spirit as the new choir leader.

Ms. Miller, in the Whoopi Goldberg role, has an amazing voice but she has a bad habit of delivering a comedy line as though a rim-shot will follow while she winks to the audience. Her performance could best be described as broad.  Her thug boyfriend Curtis, played suavely by Kingsley Leggs, is menacing and has one funny song "When I find My Baby" which he does a la Barry White.  The song has Curtis singing with his henchman about all the terrible things he is going to do to her when he finds her.  Tracy Morgan's doppelganger Demond Green is hilarious as TJ, Curtis’s dim-witted nephew.

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Officer Eddie Souther (Chester Gregory), in whom Deloris confides, went to high-school with her and always had a crush on her.  Unfortunately, she only ever knew him as sweaty Eddie (due to his propensity to perspire.)  He aspires to Vegas greatness himself.  He has a terrific number called “I Could Be That Guy.”  Choreographer Anthony Van Laast has utilized an inspired bit of stage-craft to affect a quick on-stage costume change by Eddie.  During the number they tear away his police officer’s uniform to reveal sequined white pants and a vest with a flashy red shirt.  What’s even more impressive is when they get him back into his police officer’s uniform at the end of the number.  Its actually just another rip-away.  As for Mr. Gregory’s performance, I was left cold by him and don’t feel that he kept up with the talent around him.  Though he has a good voice, his acting felt mechanical.

The lovely Victoria Clark is the Mother Superior.  This was the role played by Dame Maggie Smith in the movie.  Clark portrays the Mother Superior with a dry approach that would make Bob Newhart proud. She has an uncanny ability to take a beat or even two beats and make it funny by doing nothing.

Fred Applegate is Monsignor O’Hara.  This is a fun role and Mr. Applegate looks like he is having the time of his life on stage.  In fact, the whole cast does.  Sara Bolt is Sister Mary Patrick.  She maintains that wonderful air of exuberance, glass half-full, downright joyousness that Kathy Najimy brought to the same role in the movie.  Marla Mindelle is Sister Mary Robert, the novice who is not yet quite certain she wants to be a nun.  Ms. Mindelle’s singing has a nasality to it and when she reached for a couple of the higher notes on “The Life I Never Led”, pitch suffered.   Later in the second act, in one of the evening's few faults, they have Ms. Mindelle sing a reprise of the song that feels gratuitously placed. 

Director Jerry Zaks has pulled together a tight, fast-paced and funny show.  Klara Zieglerova creates a set that magically mixes the sacred and the profane, right down to the spinning mirror-ball Virgin Mary.  And not since Mother Theresa, has has anyone done more for the modern nun’s habit than costume designer Lez Brotherston.

Sister Act’s orchestra has a nice lush clean sound to it.  Kudos to sound designer John Shivers for his part in that.  I’ve been to the theatre recently where the orchestra sounded muffled and synthesized.

Sister Act is family friendly, funny and fast-paced with a hummable score by Alan Menken.  Douglas Carter Beane is credited with creating “additional book material” for the show that is very funny.    Perhaps my favorite line is when Deloris comes clean that she isn’t a nun, or even a Catholic, Sister Mary Lazarus dryly asks “You’re really a Negro though, right?”  Funny stuff.

So get thee to a nunnery at the Broadway Theatre on Broadway and take a vow of hilarity.  It’ll be good for your soul.  

Additional Info

  • Theatre: Broadway Theatre
  • Theatre Address: Broadway at 53rd St. New York, NY 10019
  • Show Style: Musical
  • Previews:: March 24, 2011
  • Opening Night: April 20, 2011
  • Closing: Open-Ended
Last modified on Saturday, 13 August 2011 22:39

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