Wednesday, May 11, 2011

theatre review SISTER ACT, Broadway, May 10th

If you're looking for a Broadway musical with a big cast, elaborate set pieces that move around the stage, fun and colorful costumes, a score with some really nice songs and a book that makes you laugh and cry just a little, then I give you Sister Act.  This is a show I loved and recommend highly.

Based on the 1992 film of the same name that starred Whoopi Goldberg and Maggie Smith, the musical moves the locale to 1970's Philadelphia from 90's San Francisco.  In doing so, it is able to pay homage to the style and music of the 70's, including everything from disco to Motown and funk.

The show premiered in London in June of 2009 with the book of the show written by Cheri and Bill Steinkellner, lyrics by Glenn Slater and music by Alan Menken.  The Broadway cast stars Patina Miller in the Goldberg role of Deloris and Victoria Clark in Smith's role as the Mother Superior.  The show was slightly changed for Broadway with Douglas Carter-Been coming in to provide some rewrites on the book and Jerry Zaks added as the new director of the show.  I didn't see the show in London where it ran last year or in any of the couple of other cities where it played before so I can't comment if the changes were for the better, but the current book seems honest and sincere without being too predictable and there are many funny parts as well.

Applegate, Clark, Gregory and Miller
The plot of the story is one you've seen in many other films and shows before, person witnesses a crime and has to hide out, disguised, until they can serve as a witness at trial.  In this case, the person is Deloris van Cartier, a lounge singer wannabe, involved with Curtis, a married man and club owner who just also happens to be a gangster.  Deloris is ready to end it with Curtis as she realizes he is holding back her dreams but when she leaves the club she sees Curtis kill one of his men who he believes has talked to the police.  Deloris tells him that she didn't see anything, but that isn't good enough for Curtis who tells his men to follow her and bring her back.  Deloris runs and manages to make it to a police office where she runs into an old friend from high school, Eddie, who is now a cop.  Eddie, who always had a crush on Deloris, hides her away at a local convent, the last place he thinks Curtis would look for her.  The convent is in deep trouble as very few people come to mass anymore and there is an offer to buy the church and turn it into an antique shop.  Run by a stern Mother Superior who wants little to do with Deloris, but is forced to take her in by the Monsignor as the police have given the church a large donation to hide her.  Deloris and the Mother Superior do not see eye to eye on many things and when Deloris tries to beef up the choir by using many of her lounge moves and songs the Mother Superior wishes she was gone.  Will Deloris and the Mother Superior get along?  Will Curtis and his men find Deloris?  Will the church really be sold?  And what about Eddie, will he and Deloris become a couple?  I think you can guess the answer to all of these questions, but even though the plot is somewhat predictable, the dialogue, songs, cast and direction make this show an extremely enjoyable one.

Clark and Miller
Miller is Deloris and Clark is the Mother Superior and they are both excellent in their roles.  Miller is the girl with a dream who won't let anything get in her way, not even  witnessing a murder.  And while at the beginning of the show she comes across a little too "look at me I'm fabulous baby" - which is an actual lyric from the show, she quickly realizes how she doesn't have anyone to turn to and how the nuns at the church are her family.  Miller plays the transition of her character very well, with a great voice as well as a great stage presence not to mention some fabulous costumes.

Clark is amazing in her role, since she is dressed in a habit for the entire show, she has to pretty much "act" with her face and she excels at this.  She says so much with a simple look, gesture or a pause and the audience fell in love with her immediately.  She is given a couple of nice songs to show off her voice as well.  I think Clark might win another Tony for this part, assuming Book of Mormon doesn't sweep every category.    I also liked Chester Gregory as Eddie, Marla Mindelle as the postulate who doesn't quite know if she's gotten the calling yet or not and Fred Applegate as the Monsignor.  Mindelle has an amazing voice and is given one of the best songs in the show "The Life I Never Led" to show it off.  The rest of the ensemble is very effective, the men play several parts and each of the nuns is given something to make them somewhat distinguishable from the others.

Miller and Mindelle
The set is sensational, with plenty of large pieces that move in and around and even the set has some special surprises in store for us come the end of the show.  A big round of applause for set designer Klara Zieglerova.  Costume designer Lez Brotherston has come up with some fun
70's period costumes for Deloris, Curtis and his crew as well as some fun surprises in the nun habits come act two.

The score by Menken and Slater has some really nice songs, with just a few so-so ones.  Slater's lyric rhymes are very funny and I loved how some of the songs start out one way but turn into something completely different, like Curtis' song "When I Find My Baby" that starts out as a love song about finding your sweetheart but then becomes a song about how you're gonna harm them when you find them.  Slater uses some very funny and original rhyme choices here and in almost all of the songs.  Menken's music is nice as well, giving us a wide range of styles including disco, rock, funk, Motown and even a little hip hop. There are a couple of changes in the score from the London production, including giving Mother Superior a new act two song where before she just had a reprise of her act one solo.   Since the London cast was recorded and Miller starred in that production, it looks like they won't be making a new recording with the Broadway cast which is a shame, as this way Clark and Mindelle's great work in this show won't be preserved as well as the changes to the score that were made for the Broadway run.

There are also some great theatrical moments in the show too, which I don't want to give away but I'll just refer to a couple I liked most.  Eddie's song "I Could Be That Guy" starts somewhat slow and seems like a throw away song but it turns into a very funny period song that has not one but two great moments in it that are something that leaves a smile on your face.   I loved how Deloris' lounge act songs that open the show take on a completely different meaning at the end of act one.

One of the other really nice things about this show is that most musicals have all of their good stuff in Act One, kinda like the creators got all of their creative juices flowing and then didn't have much left for Act Two.  But Sister Act is one of those shows where Act Two is even better than the first one. 

Sister Act is the last of the four nominated Best Musicals that we saw and if I had to vote it would be a toss up between this show and Catch Me If You Can for that award.  As the more I think about The Book of Mormon the less I liked that show, even though I'm pretty sure it will most likely sweep the awards this year and to me Scottsboro Boys was more about an idea for a show and less of an actual fully fleshed out production of that idea.

As Ethel Merman was quoted as saying when she lost out on winning the Best Actress Tony for Gypsy to Mary Martin in The Sound of Music, "you can't buck a nun!" and after seeing Sister Act I have to agree with Merman.

Official Web Site

Amazon link for the London cast cd - Sister Act (OCR)
Amazon link for MP3's of the London cast recording of the show that starred Patina Miller - Sister Act

Amazon MP3 clips -

Amazon link for the film with Whoopi Goldberg - Sister Act / Sister Act 2 - Back in the Habit

The Broadway cast performs "Raise Your Voice" on The View -

"Take Me To Heaven" -

Rehearsals for the Broadway show -

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