Sister Act the Musical is every bit as fun as the Whoopi Goldberg-headlining 1992 movie that inspired it. The current US touring production features beautiful sets, tight choreography and a celestial alignment of talent.
With music by Alan Menken (Beauty and the Beast), lyrics by Glenn Slater (Tangled), a book by Bill and Cheri Steinkellner (Cheers) and direction by Jerry Zaks (Smokey Joe’s Cafe) it is a fast-paced, highly comedic show. The religious undertones are minor – almost invisible, in fact. The final moral of the story is simple and elegant: God is Love, sing it out!
The setting is Philadelphia in the late seventies: Funk and disco rule the airwaves and crime runs rampant in the streets. The story begins with hopeful starlet Deloris Van Cartier (Ta’Rea Campbell) giving her all in an audition for club owner and married boyfriend Curtis Jackson (Melvin Abston). The audition certainly doesn’t go as she would have hoped – she stumbles on a murder scene that threatens to permanently end her dreams of a singing career (along with her life).
After finding temporary sanctuary at a police station Officer Eddie Souther (Chester Gregory) devises a plan to keep her safe while waiting to testify against her former fella – he’ll hide her in a nearby nunnery. Economic worries have Mother Superior (Hollis Resnik) and Monsignor O’Hara (Richard Pruitt) fretting that the nunnery may soon close; fortunately, Eddie’s plan comes with some funding.
But Mother Superior and Van Cartier find they don’t get along very well: The singer’s temperament fails to suit Mother Superior’s contemplative ways, and eventually she is forced to lead the choir. That is, of course, the linchpin for all that follows.
Among the winning cast special kudos go to Gregory, whose performance is effervescent. Curtis’ henchmen TJ (Charles Barksdale), Joey (Tad Wilson), and Pablo (Chris Chatman) are uproarious; when their scheme to seduce their way into the convent fails and they enter disguised as nuns, a Scooby Doo-worthy chase scene ensues. Sister Mary Robert (Ashley Moniz) starts as a squeaking, mousy creature, but inspired by Deloris she eventually stands up to both Mother Superior and Curtis; the performer playing her possesses a big voice in a small package.
The songs are beautifully performed by the host of talented voices in the cast. The show is a glorious tribute to fun and funk, with nearly twenty numbers, including “It’s Good to Be a Nun,” “When I Find My Baby,” and “Sunday Morning Fever,” incorporating everything from Motown to disco; conductor Brent-Alan Huffman leads his orchestra like a Super Pope. The dance numbers choreographed by Anthony Van Laast play like gangbusters. The costuming (by Lez Brotherston), scenery (by Klara Zieglerova) and lighting (by Natasha Katz) are terrific.
Devote some time to get down to TPAC during the run that continues through Sunday. It may not be the Sistine Chapel, but it’s a lot more fun to see.
Sister Act the Musical, part of the HCA/TriStar Health Broadway at TPAC series, continues through Sunday (March 16) in Tennessee Performing Arts Center’s Andrew Jackson Hall (505 Deaderick St.). Shows are 7:30 p.m. Today (Thursday); 8 p.m. Friday; 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday; and 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Sunday. Tickets (starting at $20) are available by calling (615) 782-4040 or visiting www.tpac.org; for more information on the tour visit www.sisteractbroadway.com.
*Photos from Sister Act the Musical by Joan Marcus courtesy the touring company and TPAC.