Sister Act could not have arrived at a better time for its two-week run at Broward Center for the Performing Arts. Who isn’t in need of an upbeat diversion?
For its journey from screen, where Whoopi Goldberg had the lead role, to stage, where Goldberg now serves as the musical’s producer, the creative team has bundled the wimples, sequined habits and singing nuns and transported them back in time, from the 1992 movie’s present-day Reno/San Francisco to 1978 Philadelphia. And with that shrewd move, Goldberg’s lounge act Deloris, who favored slightly rewritten yet shopworn Motown oldies, morphs into Ta’Rea Campbell’s Deloris Van Cartier who gets to bust out disco as if she were Donna Summer’s spiritual cousin.
Alan Menken and Glenn Slater’s original score lovingly mixes disco and ‘70s Philly soul orchestrations (and even dollops of Dreamgirls and Beauty and the Beast) to evoke memories of Barry White, Lou Rawls and The Three Degrees. One amusing number, Lady in the Long Black Dress, even offers a silky update on the Floaters’ exaggeratedly suave 1977 novelty hit, Float On. Sunday Morning Fever features the good sisters lifting their voices skyward: “Bump that thing in praise of Christ the King, until you pull your pelvic muscle! Get confessed! Get anointed! Then get down like you were double jointed.”
Sister Act’s plot adapts Joseph Howard’s 1992 screenplay but Cheri and Bill Steinkellner’s book, with a savvy overhaul by Douglas Carter Beane, streamlines it for the stage and Jerry Zaks’ exuberant direction propels the story forward. After she sees married lover Curtis whack one of his goons, Deloris seeks protection from Eddie, a sweet cop who has had designs on the diva since high school. Eddie stashes Deloris at the Queen of Angels convent, against the objections of the no-nonsense Mother Superior (Hollis Resnik, who has superior comic timing.)
Naturally, Deloris, now Sister Mary Clarence who vows “to put the ‘Sis’ in Genesis,” and the starchy Mother Superior get along about as well as disco and rock fans once did. “I’ve got celibate nuns out there shaking their buns,” the Reverend Mother frets after Deloris delivers disco to the cloisters.
With some of the flashiest outfits the stage has seen since Mamma Mia!, costume designer Lez Brotherston and set designer Klara Zieglerova have the cast, who all have terrific voices, shaking their groove things before a giant, dazzling statue of the Virgin Mary. They must have spent a fortune on this production.
The clash of wills between Deloris and the Mother Superior still serves as the story hook and, given its pedigree, they both will learn lessons designed to send audiences home on a giddy, heavenly high.
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