‘Sister Act’ soars on stage
‘Sister Act” might just be the most ecumenical of culture clash musicals — a deliciously silly farce that suggests that somewhere between prayer and disco there is a sisterhood of love that can fill the pews with as many people as flock to Broadway theaters and big-time casinos.
The motto here is: Raise the spirit by raising the rafters, and, in the process, give shelter to a material girl in distress. And if you happen to have a few thousand extra yards of glittery fabric, just whip it into the latest vestments. After all, the Vatican hardly skimps on pomp or gilt.
Let it be said that “Sister Act” is pure cartoonishness, but it also happens to be wholly enchanting — full of both pop music sendups and nunsense, all packaged with a winning mix of socko numbers and a lightness of touch that invariably puts laughter before preachiness. Based on the hit movie, it has been “musicalized” to perfection, with a score by Alan Menken that is an ideal mix of disco-era pastiche and Broadway showstoppers, deliciously clever lyrics by Glenn Slater and a book by Cheri and Bill Steinkellner and the ever acerbic Douglas Carter Beane. What’s more, the national touring production that opened Wednesday night at the Auditorium Theatre is sensational — with Jerry Zaks’ fast-paced direction, Anthony Van Laast’s playfully boogeying moves, a vibrant orchestra, and a cast that puts several immensely talented women in the spotlight and backs them up with a large ensemble of gifted character actors.
Set in 1977 Philadelphia, the story spins around what happens when Deloris Van Cartier (the unquestionably starry, clarion-voiced Ta’Rea Campbell), a wannabe Donna Summer, witnesses a murder committed by her no-good boyfriend, club owner Curtis Jackson (Kingsley Leggs), and ends up in a witness protection program of sorts. Her cover? Well, to steal a line from the show, she is “incog-Negro” by way of a full habit. And not surprisingly, she doesn’t quite blend in as one of the sisters at the Queen of Angels convent, where she comes under the watchful eye of the Mother Superior (that altogether peerless Chicago diva, Hollis Resnik, who acts the stuffings out of her role).
Rest assured that by the end of the first act, Deloris (dubbed Sister Mary Clarence) has seen to it that the once grimly off-key choir is making a heavenly noise that has a whole lot more to do with rock-infused gospel, disco ball lights and John Travolta moves than incense-infused Gregorian chants. And by early in the second act, the impoverished church has not only been rescued from a sale to two “bachelors” who probably will turn it into a gothic antiques mall, but the congregation has multiplied and the sisters have been invited to perform for Pope Paul VI.
Along the way, Eddie Souther (charming E. Clayton Cornelious), the soft-hearted cop who has had a crush on Deloris since high school, finds his courage. Novice Mary Robert (the sensational Lael Van Keuren) is emboldened to rebel (soaring in her anthem, “The Life I Never Led”). Deloris finds fulfillment in something grander than fame and fortune. And Mother Superior’s faith is expanded.
Klara Zieglerova’s set, with its Last Supper refectory and stained glass apse, looks exceptionally beautiful in the golden-archedAuditorium Theatre, and Lez Brotherston’s costuming includes one rapid-fire trick that might just count as a minor miracle.
To paraphrase Monsignor O’Hara (the very funny Richard Pruitt): “The reviews are in and they go like this: ‘If you see only one Roman Catholic mass this season, this is the one.’ ”