By R. J. Donovan
Based on the popular film of the same name, "Sister Act" the musical, is all about the kerfuffle disco diva wannabe Deloris Van Cartier (nee Deloris Wilson) finds herself in when she accidentally witnesses her thug of a boyfriend commit a murder.
She escapes from the clutches of his goons, runs to the police who scoot her out of sight so she can testify against the guy and send him up the river. So where do you hide a bedazzled singer with a big personality and an even bigger voice? In a convent, of course -- the last place the underworld would ever look for her.
Once in the convent disguised as a nun, Deloris is hard to harness, finding life in the cloisters suffocating. Until she makes it her mission to help the positively awful choir find its voice. Which it does with such glory that the sisters draw huge crowds which keeps the church from going bust. Their success is so great that they eventually receive an invitation to sing for the Holy Father (which kind of defeats the purpose in keeping Deloris out of sight).
The original film benefited from the genius of Whoopie Goldberg as Deloris. Side note here is that Ms. Goldberg is one of the producers of the stage musical.
The national tour of "Sister Act" pulled into The Opera House this past week. Music is by award-winning Alan Menkin with lyrics by Glenn Slater. Cheri Steinkellner and Bill Steinkellner have written the book with assistance from Douglas Carter Beane.
At The Opera House, Deloris is played with style by Ta'Rea Campbell. She has a soaring voice, a larger than life personality and is thoroughly believable in the role of the singer on the lam.
Hollis Resnick plays Mother Superior, who has a winning way with a withering line and offers a nice moment with the solo "Here Within These Walls." Florrie Bagel is the ever-bubbly Sister Mary Patrick (played to the hilt by Kathy Najimy in the film). Diane J. Findlay is very funny as the sarcastic and gravely voiced Sister Mary Lazarus. And Lael Van Keuren is timid Sister Mary Robert who eventually comes out of her shell (and gets the biggest hand of the night with "The Life I Never Led").
Rounding out the company is Richard Pruitt as the Monsignor, Kinglsey Leggs is Curtis (the thug) and E. Clayton Cornelious is police officer Eddie Souther (with a long held crush on dear Deloris). A special nod goes to Charles Barksdale as T.J., the thug's nephew. The role is not particularly funny on paper, but Barksdale gives it polish with his winning personality.
In general, the show is fine fun, with several bright spots, a couple of bubbly musical moments and a host of lovely singing voices. One would expect, however, that this plethora of talent would set off celestial fireworks. As already stated, the show is fun. But it appears willing to settle rather than working to achieve the excellence it could. Or should. And there are a couple of plot points that make little sense.
Although it's probably not fair to compare one show to another, "The Producers" comes to mind here. Silly fun with no heavy lifting, to be sure. Yet, it's tight, sharp and beautifully realized with style and pizzazz. The same can be said of something like "Xanadu," mostly due to Douglas Carter Beane's delicious talents, which while evident in "Sister Act," don't bring it far enough.
The big production numbers alternate with the more somber "here's-what-I'm really-thinking" ballads. Under the guidance of director Jerry Zaks, the show maintains two levels -- big and small. And it alternates evenly between the two, skimming along without a whole lot of shading.
Again, it's fun. It's just not spectacular, despite the potential. But fear not -- in the end, fun will still get you past the Pearly Gates. It just won't get you to the head of the line.
"Sister Act " is at The Opera House, 539 Washington Street in Boston, through February 3. Call 1-800-982-2787.
-- Production Photos: Joan Marcus
-- OnStage Boston
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