Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Review National Tour of "Sister Act"

The national tour of Sister Act, the show based on the movie of the same name, is a highly polished, smooth-running musical.  Unlike the original Broadway production, I found the tour to be more complete and rewarding.  We are not talking about a great piece of musical theater, but a thoroughly gratifying and rewarding theatrical experience.

As I stated in my Broadway review, the general plot follows the movie storyline as would-be disco diva, Deloris Van Cartier (Ta’rea Campbell) witnesses a gangland slaying by her sleazy mobster boyfriend, Curtis Jackson, (Kingsley Leggs). Seeking protection from the police, she encounters officer Eddie Souther (E. Clayton Cornelious) who just happens to be a high school classmate that also, conveniently, had a huge crush on the threatened woman in his younger days. He whisks her away to a local convent to keep her out-of-sight and safe. At the convent a clash of cultures occur, primarily, between the exuberant and feisty Deloris and the dignified and restrained Mother Superior (divinely played by Hollis Resnik).

Van Cartier, told to keep a low profile, instead takes over the solemn, but rather pathetic, church choir turning it into a heavenly sensation. They become a media darling which, or course, leads the bad guys to the convent where, after a brief, chaotic chase through the hollowed grounds, the gangsters are caught and a happy ending prevails.

This Sister Act doesn’t overly focus on any one character.  Yes, Ta’rea Campbell is the star, but unlike the Broadway production this version plays more as an ensemble piece, which makes it a more satisfying show. 

Campbell has a good stage presence and a powerful voice, which gives the church choir numbers such distinction as they raise the rafters with passion and flair.  The scenes with the assemblage of cloistered nuns provide a continuous humorous thread throughout the production. Standouts among them include Florrie Bagel (Sister Mary Patrick), Diane J. Findlay (Sister Mary Lazarus), and Lael Van Keuren (Sister Mary Robert). Hollis Resnik, as the Mother Superior, gives a more measured performance. However, this allows the actress to deadpan her way through the musical, showing great comic timing with her slow burns and double takes and entendres. E. Clayton Cornelious gives a solid performance as policeman “Sweaty” Eddie Souther.  While initially lacking self-confidence he becomes more assured and resolute.  He also has a fine voice and some good dance moves.

The music from composer Alan Menken and lyricist Glenn Slater mirrors the show itself. While in the convent the score pulsates with high-octane and disco-inflected numbers such as “Raise Your Voice,” and “Sunday Morning Fever.” Otherwise, the songs are more routine and conventional.

The original book for the pre-Broadway productions of Sister Act, including the London run, was by television writers, Cheri and Bill Steinkellner, but the current version is now attributed more to Douglas Carter Beane. With the national tour the book seems more cohesive and uniform.

Director Jerry Zaks helms the production with comedic flair especially in the confines of the church.  At this point in its run, Sister Act hums along like a well-tuned engine that Zaks only needs to tinker with.

Sister Act, under the guidance and protection of the Lord, is a rollicking good time.

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