Regional Reviews: Cleveland & Akron
Sister Act has been dubbed the "Divine Musical Comedy." This is what Dante would have written if he'd had a band, backup singers and glitter. The play is based on the successful 1992 movie, which starred Whoopi Goldberg as Deloris Van Cartier. Goldberg is a producer of the musical version of Sister Act.
The story concerns Deloris Van Cartier (Ta'rea Campbell), a wannabe singer, who just can't get the career breaks she needs. Suddenly, that break comes like a shot. She witnesses a gangland shooting. Deloris is placed in police security and sent to a convent for safety. In the convent, she has to take on the duties and dress of a nun. She's assigned to lead the music.
The choir of nuns couldn't be much worse. But, with a little direction from Deloris, they're packing the church. Mother Superior (Hollis Resnik) isn't happy with these changesthe music is too loud and raucous and the wrong people are coming to churchthe homeless, the down and out and even a few people addicted to drugs. What would Jesus think?
But the offering plates are filled and what was an almost out-of-business church suddenly succeeds financially. But, wait, even better newsthe Pope is coming to this church to hear Deloris and her nuns do their sister act. When the Pope appears in the orchestra pit, his face never shows, but the actor received warm applause.
Deloris is also loud and raucous and, although she went to a Catholic school, she has difficulty getting into the habits of the convent. The production starts much too slowly. Ta'rea Campbell makes her Deloris too plain, sluggish and deliberate at the opening of the show. Her comedy lines seem paced for a snail. But, late in the first act, when the script offers the big numbers, Campbell hits her stride and couldn't be better. She makes her conversion to being a sister (in this case a friend of the church) and romance with a police officer, the actions of a well-thought-out character.
As the Mother Superior, Hollis Resnick is the definitive female curmudgeon. However, this is a woman who has been trained in one tradition and is having trouble modulating to another. Resnick lets the audience observe her conversion from classic hymns to disco and dazzle.
The surprise of the show is the awkward postulate, Mary Robert, played by Lael Van Keuren. She understudied the role on Broadway. She has a dynamite voice that would make Ethel Merman stand up and salute. As she falls under the influence of Deloris, she becomes self-assured and learns to let that beautiful, strong voice out.
The star of the show is Lez Brotherston, the costume designer. She keeps the nuns in traditional habits, but as the story progresses, their habits become brighter and twinkle. Are those millions of sequins for each nun's habit? By the end of the show it's difficult to look at the stage because of the gleaming costumes.
The successful, entertaining production fills Cleveland's Palace Theater. This is classical musical comedy of the 1950s variety. Sister Act isn't divine, but is a good evening in the theater.
The KeyBank Broadway Series continues with War Horse (April 9-12, 2013), Guys and Dolls (May 1 - June 23, 2013), The Book of Mormon (June 18 - July 7) and The Lion King (July 9 - August 4, 2013).
The Palace Theatre
- David Ritchey