Saturday, April 30, 2011

Broadway's Utterly Fun-Filled, Maddeningly Catchy 'Sister Act'

While Donna Mae Moose was in town, we hit the jackpot by scoring complementary tickets to see Broadway's just-opened Sister Act at the Broadway Theatre. As we were escorted to our seats, we were motioned away from the orchestra level—sigh—only to discover that we had been rewarded with box seats!

We felt like President Abraham and Mrs. Lincoln, you know, only without the assassination part. It was like the Broadway version of flying first class.

The musical, based on the 1992 lightweight movie starring Whoopi Goldberg, is instead set in 1978 at disco's joyous peak, allowing for a funtastic, upbeat, danceable score from Glenn Slater & Alan Menken (the latter stepping out of character from his usual Disney fare, a la The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and Pocahontas). Thankfully, the new songs replace the flick's weary jukebox of Motown cliches that you never, ever need to hear again.

The cast is led by the delightfully talented Patina Miller as Deloris Van Cartier, who originated the role in London's West End; her owl-like eyes and wide toothy grin practically command the stage, alongside exceptional physical and narrative comic timing. The other stand-out is second lead Victoria Clark, who conjures the grandeur and poise of every Mother Superior since The Sound of Music.

Some of the supporting nuns border on caricature, particularly Sarah Bolt as Sister Mary Patrick, who simply stands in for movie original Kathy Najimy, down to the Midwest accent and "aw, shucks" persona. The male cast members, meanwhile, are competent, but unlikely to be calling Tony's name.

Costumes, meanwhile, are a giggle a minute. As the nuns gain an increasing church following and their "hymns" become a camp call to arms, the Sisters' robes appropriately evolve with dazzle and glitz, until they practically belong at Studio 54. By the end, a giant sacred Virgin Mary statue is practically spinning in circles with disco delight. Good fun.

In all, Sister Act is predictable, but knee-slapping fun and a wondrous escape from reality, with several songs ("Take Me To Heaven," "The Life I Never Led," "Fabulous, Baby!" and "I Could Be That Guy" that stick fast and hard to the brain. Its familiarity should be an instant draw for the New York tourist crowd, while offering enough onstage originality to maintain a dominant place along the Great White Way for the long haul. Hopefully, it will be years before this Sister bids her farewell Amen.