The stage musical, based on the movie starring Whoopi Goldberg, premiered in Pasadena and Atlanta in 2006, and then moved on to London’s West End. The Broadway production ran over a year and garnered five Tony nominations. If you have seen the movie, you know the plot, the fabulous Deloris Van Cartier (played by steamy talent Ta’Rea Campbell) sees her gangster boyfriend Curtis (Melvin Abston) shoot an informer. A former school friend, now local Philly cop, Eddie Souther aka “Sweaty Eddie” (played with damp but oh so charming appeal by Chester Gregory) gives her witness protection within the walls of a convent. There she bonds with an eclectic group of nuns and helps them find their voices, literally and figuratively.
The cast is excellent and has a great sense of ensemble. Campbell does a wonderful job of leading the group but everyone has moments to shine and she is generous in her sharing of the stage. Her Deloris is loud but sweet, brash but kind-hearted and her voice is truly lovely. Hollis Resnik’s Mother Superior rules her domain with a gentle voice and iron will. She sees the changes happening around her as something to protect the other nuns from, rather than embracing the new order. (Of course, in the theater, you never see people changing to “goody-goody.” It isn’t Danny Zuko who changes out of his black leather at the end of Grease, it’s always the Sandy’s who change their ways.) That’s true of Sister Act too. But Resnick grounds the play and keeps it all from being just too, too silly.
Florrie Bagel’s Sister Mary Patrick channels Kathy Najimy so hard I had to check my program, twice. It’s a tasty performance, with plenty of schmeer. Abston’s Curtis comes off so laid back it takes a moment to realize his song, “When I find My Baby” is really funny, in a "this gangster's gonna kill you" kind of way and the soulful tune of it hides the nefarious lyrics. Gregory's Eddie is tender and kind, a bit nerdy and unsure. When he sings “I Could Be That Guy”, you know, the one with the sweet moves, who says all the right things and always gets the girl, he is singing the anthem for gentle men all over the world. (Watch for the brilliant quick change in his number.)
There’s so much to love in this show. Alan Menken's score celebrates the soul sound of Philly in the late 1970's and Glenn Slater's lyrics give us most of the humor and wit the show possesses. The cast really nails the songs; every word is crystal clear. I also loved Monsignor O’Hara’s Barry White impression (the progressive O’Hara is played energetically by Richard Pruitt;) the ensemble of nuns saying the meal prayer; their song “It’s Good to Be a Nun,” really anytime the ensemble of nuns is onstage; Sister Mary Lazarus (Diane J Findley) rapping, hysterical; the gentle Catholic jokes and Sound of Music references; and I cannot rave enough about Ashley Moniz' Sister Mary Robert and her song "The Life I Never Led." Moniz is a tiny gal, but she packs some big pipes in that little frame.
Lest I forget, the trio of thugs Joey, Pablo and TJ (Tad Wilson, Ernie Pruneda and Charles Barksdale) are appropriately and humorously inept throughout but they have a great moment to shine when they sing "Lady in the Long Black Dress" a love song that lets us in on their plan to seduce the nuns in order to get to Deloris. The song is followed by a sight gag that is even funnier. Nice work boys.
Kudos, also, to Klara Zieglerova for an easily traveled scene design that appears lusher than it is and Lez Brotherston's costumes, complete with a sequin or two. Natasha Katz' lighting design added to the glitz and electric feel of the show.
Oh sure, there are things I could kvetch about, the book is not the best part of the show, lines are mostly obvious and sometimes fall into cliche. Nuns wouldn't wear veils with their PJs (I know, it IS funnier that way,) no way are the cops leaving Deloris' coat on the chair for the gangsters to see and nuns only get their "nun names" after taking final orders, so our little postulant would not be called Sister Mary Robert, but again, it's funnier this way and it IS a musical so the suspension of disbelief is always high. The hardest suspension for me was "Raise Your Voice." Deloris, as Sister Mary Clarence, gets the nuns to sing louder, more confidently, more joyously but only in a musical does that translate to more harmoniously when no harmonies existed before. Kvetch over, it’s a great show.
So if you have everyone in town for the holidays and you’re looking for a way to keep them entertained, they will be thankful for an evening at the Fox with Sister Act. Sister Act continues through December 1st at the Fox.