National Tour of Sister Act an Offering of Laughter and Heart at the Paramount
Faithfully, though not slavishly, based on the Whoopi Goldberg starred film's script, adapted by TV's Cheri and Bill Steinkellner with an assist from Douglas Carter Beane, Sister Act tells the slight but amusing tale of how wannabe R&B/disco diva in training Deloris Van Cartier after witnessing her low-life, married gangstah boyfriend Curtis murder an associate, ends up in a convent, being passed off as Sister Mary Clarence. After frequent clashes with the stern Mother Superior, and winning over the other holy sisters with her sass and street-wise charms, Deloris is assigned by the Reverend Mother to the nuns choir where she quickly turns them into a gold record worthy group whose fame helps bring the convent out of debt. The Mother Superior still has misgivings, even when a performance for the Pope is slated. A TV appearance then clues ex-beau Curtis and his henchman in to her whereabouts, and it looks like Deloris hasn't a prayer. But remember, this is based on a Disney film that starred Whoopi at her wackiest; You shouldn't come expecting anything other than a happy, hearty ending.
Directed by Jerry Zaks in his broadest, brightest mode and featuring some zesty and disco-era observant choreography by Anthony Van Laast, the best thing the production has going for it is the hard-driving, tireless cast lead by Ta'Rea Campbell, a younger model of Deloris than the Goldberg prototype, with killer vocal chops and a smooth way of sliding between sass and sincerity. Hollis Resnick commands the stage as the imperious Mother Superior, but really gets her chance to shine with her act two showstopper "Haven't Got a Prayer." Both Campbell and Resnick are enough their own creations that you wish that the roles of Sisters Mary Robert (Florrie Bagel), Mary Patrick (Lael Van Keuren), and Mary Lazarus (Diane Findlay) weren't virtual carbon copies of the film portrayers. Fortunately, though, Ms. Bagel is about as rotundly riotous as the film's Kathy Najimy; Van Keuren has a true voice of an angel in her big ballad "The Life I Never Led" (her film counterpart was dubbed!); and old pro Lazarus pays such adept homage to the great character actress whose sensible shoes she fills that they may as well have renamed her character Sister Mary Wickes!
The male roles, though reconceived and beefed up from the film, still take a back seat to the ladies, but Chester Gregory brims with aw shucks good guy sweetness as "Sweaty" Eddie, the cop who was a long-ago pal of Deloris and may have a romantic future with her. Kingsley Leggs is commanding, surly and rich-voiced as Curtis, a character made up of equal bits Curtis Taylor, Jr. from Dreamgirls and Mister from The Color Purple (like this Curtis, a role Leggs essayed on Broadway). Todd A. Horman as Joey, Ernie Pruneda as Pablo and Charles T. Barksdale as Leggs' nephew TJ shake the dust off their buffoonish crime goon roles and earn a solid hand for their comedy trio "Lady in the Long Black Dress" in which they also shake some agreeable bootay, and Richard Pruitt is another solid presence as the jovial Monsignor.
Scenic designs from Klara Zieglerova range from tacky looking to show-biz sparkly, and Lez Brotherston's costumes capture the era in all its gaudy glory. The sound at the Paramount, at least on opening, started out a bit muddy, but seemed to improve through the show. The cast received a strong standing O at the end, justifiably. Sister Act onstage may not take you to heaven, but it could well lift your spirits for a few hours, and what's wrong with that?
Sister Act runs through August 25, 2013, at the Paramount Theatre, downtown at 9th and Pine. For tickets or information visit the Seattle Theatre Group online at www.stgpresents.org. For more information on the tour, visit sisteractbroadway.com.