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Review: Sister Act

Sister Act, a musical based on the Whoopi Goldberg movie, delights Pantages Theatre audience members and this Disney fan.

Is it just me or have they been making a lot of musicals based on movies lately? If so, that is not a bad thing. I recently saw the engaging Catch Me if You Can movie-turned-musical at the beautiful Pantages Theatre in Hollywood, California, and so when a musical version of the movie, Sister Act, was offered at the Pantages, I was game.

I remember enjoying the 1992 movie, Sister Act, starring Whoopi Goldberg. My interest in seeing the musical version of Sister Act was buoyed when I discovered that the music was composed by Alan Menken, whose work I’d adored in the Disney movies: Tangled, Enchanted, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Pocahontas, Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, and The Little Mermaid.

In Sister Act, set in 1970s Philadelphia, Deloris Van Cartier, a down-on-her-luck, larger-than-life, wannabe diva, whose existence seems to have hit rock bottom, ends up in the witness protection program after she witnesses a murder. The police make the seemingly unwise decision to attempt to hide her in a convent, disguised as a nun. As Deloris (now known as Sister Mary Clarence) attempts to survive in this new world, she finds a potential calling as an unconventional choir instructor for the nuns. Unfortunately, as Deloris brings an exciting new light into the church, she accidentally puts her own life back in danger.

The demanding role of Deloris Van Cartier requires a huge on-stage personality and an even bigger singing voice. Ta’Rea Campbell embraces the role of Deloris and carries the show with her powerful voice and her engaging take-over-the-room presence.

A number of the supporting cast shine as well, especially in the second act when they begin to explore the dimensions of their characters. These explorations often come in songs. Hollis Resnik, in the role of the stubborn Mother Superior, takes off the headpiece of her habit and lets down her guard as she delivers a heartfelt performance with her heavenly voice in “Haven’t Got a Prayer.” Young Mary Robert, adorably played by Lael Van Keuren, finds the strong spirit deep inside herself, along with an equally strong belt in her singing voice, in “The Life I Never Led.”

Sister Act doesn’t take itself too seriously, resulting in plenty of laughs from the audience. The role of the nervous, somewhat nerdy Officer Eddie Souther is given just the right mix of drama and comedy by E. Clayton Cornelious.  I enjoyed Eddie's awkward attempts at being cool during his big song, “I Could Be That Guy.” His performance is enhanced by a few funny, lightning-fast costume changes. I also enjoyed the musical number “It’s Good to Be a Nun,” where the sisters tell Deloris about the good, or maybe not so good, aspects of living in a convent. And the songs that feature the choir of singing, boogieing nuns are a smile-inducing pleasure to watch.

Menken’s music didn’t disappoint this Disney fan. I found “It’s Good to Be a Nun,” sung by the nuns, to be reminiscent of Disney’s Tangled’s “I've Got a Dream,” sung by a group of drunken bargoers. It almost felt like an inside joke by Menken. And I was touched by the what-I-want-for-my-life song, “The Life I Never Led,” sung by young postulant Mary Robert. This song could have just as easily been one of those sung by Tangled’s Rapunzel.

The standout set of the show is that of the church’s “stage,” with its stained glass panels. The costumes offer sparkles that seem to multiply astronomically as the show progresses. The amount of sparkle onstage in the final musical number can only be appreciated in person, and must be seen to be believed.

The musical version of Sister Act is just as enjoyable as the Whoopi Goldberg movie. By the time the cast sang a final reprise of “Raise Your Voice,” I was out of my seat, clapping along with the rest of the Pantages Theatre opening night audience. I left the theater with “Raise Your Voice” swimming through my head. It took every ounce of control for me not to belt it out as I stood on the Hollywood and Vine Metro Red Line subway platform, across the street from the Pantages Theatre, to catch my train back home. I was in the company of fellow theatergoers, and so, had I lost control and started singing, they probably would have forgiven me. Actually, based on the standing ovation and enthusiastic applause in the theatre, they also might have joined me!

Jen (California,USA)*
 

* Jen attended a performance of Sister Act as a member of the press.