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Friday, January 11, 2013

Theater review: Sister Act

Posted By on Fri, Jan 11, 2013 at 2:34 PM

Unsullied by a profound or interesting idea - and deftly skirting spirituality almost entirely - Sister Act is a joyous affirmation that boogying and becoming a superstar are far better life choices than being dead or praying and becoming a nun. Not that there's anything wrong about vowing chastity, embracing poverty, or betrothing yourself to Jesus.


When wannabe disco queen Deloris Van Cartier witnesses her sugar daddy, mobster Curtis Jackson, murdering a snitch, she is sequestered at a nunnery, setting up a titanic culture clash. Well, not really, because all the nuns want to do is shake their booty, become superstars, and sing for the Pope when he visits. So they immediately succumb to Deloris' charms - and transform themselves from a withdrawn, painfully off-key vocal ensemble into a charismatic super choir, with serious gospel electricity. The realism is astounding.

Mother Superior is the only holdout, so there is a smattering of Catholic pushback along with a minimum of tension in the plot. We wonder whether the egotistical Curtis and his comically inept henchmen will find Deloris out in her clever seclusion and/or whether Mother Superior is going to throw her out. Not a set of fearsome worries. Apparently, the new sound of the chorus is drawing so many new congregants - and donations - to the church for services that Monsignor O'Hara views Deloris as a savior.

The national tour plays beautifully at Ovens Auditorium with a pretty strong cast. Hollis Resnik sprinkles little comical notes into Mother Superior so that a mild disciplinarian with a warm heart emerges. I'm only disappointed that composer Alan Menken gives her a ballad, "Here Within These Walls," that doesn't sufficiently veil its kinship with "Beauty and the Beast."

Surprisingly, Ta'rea Campbell becomes a more dynamic stage presence when she sheds Deloris' disco threads and climbs into her nun's habit. Reason: the disco songs Menken pens for her, "Fabulous, Baby!" and "Take Me to Heaven," take us to the lower regions of Campbell's range, a place where we'd rather not linger. We finally land on glittering originality in the place we'd least expect it, the full gaggle of cloistered sisters singing "It's Good to Be a Nun." Everything we dread about monastic life is pure joy to them!


Considering that Deloris was also committing adultery when she was doing Curtis, there might have been some profitable moral lessons for her to learn during her sequestration. But no, that would be too heavy, so the teachings that occur during the culture clash go almost entirely one way. Deloris does vaguely respond to the love of the sisters - to the extent that she misses it when she must leave - but meaningful experiences are lost upon shallow materialistic protagonists.

Deloris gets her glory in the end, and she may even get "sweaty" Eddie Souther. Eddie has drooled over Deloris since their high school days, and now, as a still shy desk cop, it's his brilliant idea to hide her away with the Catholic sisters. Coming to prefer Eddie to Curtis might have evidenced a valuable life lesson for Deloris, but book writers (presumably following the lead of the Joseph Howard screenplay) have Eddie meeting her more than halfway. (Think: disco John Travolta with a gun.)

Whatever the thematic loss, the plotting makes for a more transformative Eddie played by E. Clayton Cornelious, who abetted by some lightning-quick costume changes, takes bold advantage of the opportunity. There's also some nifty Barry White shtick for Richard Pruitt as the Monsignor. Sorting out which actress performed what exploit among no fewer than five Sister Marys was more than I could manage without the aid of headshots in the program booklet. Suffice to say, they were all very fine. Perhaps I was distracted from the gruntwork of differentiating between Sister Mary Robert and Sister Mary Patrick, etc., by the fine scenery (especially that rockin' church) designed by Klara Zieglerova.

Resign yourself, therefore, sinners. Sister Act offers you only enjoyment.

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