Hollis Resnik as Mother Superior and Ta’Rea Campbell as Deloris in the national tour of Sister Act.


Sister Act

Music by Alan Menken, Lyrics by Glenn Slater
Book by Cheri & Bill Steinkellner, Additional Book Material by Douglas Carter Beane
From the Screenplay by Joseph Howard
Directed by Jerry Zaks

Reviewed by Craig Nolan Highley

Entire contents copyright © 2014 by Craig Nolan Highley. All rights reserved.

A lot of criticism has been lobbied in recent years at the current trend on Broadway to turn every successful movie into a Broadway musical. The resulting productions are seldom critically acclaimed, and are usually the targets of much derision and scathing reviews. And it’s a trend that seems to have no end in sight. Right here in Louisville there have been recent productions of Young Frankenstein, Reefer Madness, Kiss of the Spider Woman, Gilligan’s Island, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Hairspray, The Producers, and even The Evil Dead. There’s a production of Carrie in the works, and when I attended the Saturday night performance of Sister Act, there were advertisements in the lobby for the upcoming Ghost: The Musical.

But occasionally basing a Broadway show on a movie can turn out great results, and Sister Act is definitely one of the successes. The story practically begs to be set to music, as it tells the story of lounge singer Deloris Van Cartier, who witnesses a murder and has to hide out disguised as a nun in a convent. To keep her out of trouble, the Mother Superior puts her in charge of the choir, turning the singing nuns into a roaring success that reinvigorates the convent, their parishioners, and their neighborhood.

Changes from the 1992 film it’s based on include setting the action during 1978, and jettisoning all of the songs used in the movie for original creations by Alan Menken and Glenn Slater. The new songs really sound like music you would have heard on the radio in the period; plus numbers like “Raise Your Voice” and “Take Me to Heaven” make you want to get out of your seat and dance.

The performances here were for the most part first rate. Interestingly, the performance I attended changed leading ladies midway through the first act, for reasons I was not able to determine. For most of Act One, Ta’Rea Campbell nailed it as Deloris, sassy and in charge and completely ruling the first few numbers. Starting with Act One, Scene Six, her understudy, the delightful Mary Searcy, took over the role; and, honestly, I didn’t notice the change until it was announced at intermission. Both actresses used a very similar style that made the transmission seamless; that is a credit to both of them and to their director, Jerry Zaks.

Kudos also go out to Lynne Wintersteller as the Mother Superior, in a strong-willed but sympathetic portrayal of Deloris’s main adversary at the convent, and she gets to shine in her emotional “Here Within These Walls” number. The remaining nuns are a hoot, especially Diane J. Findlay as crotchety, elderly Sister Mary Lazarus, Kathy Najimy-impersonater Florrie Bagel as Sister Mary Patrick, and an especially sweet turn by Ashley Moniz as almost cripplingly shy Sister Mary Robert.

The men in the show get some memorable moments as well. Melvin Abston as Dolores’ murderous mobster boyfriend plays a great heavy, and his “When I Find My Baby” number is pure Motown. Chester Gregory is less successful as Eddie, Dolores’ new love interest and the cop assigned to keep her safe; his acting is very flat but he redeems himself with his show-stopping quick-change number “I Could Be That Guy.”

The set design by Klara Zieglerova is deceptively simple, consisting of a series of drops and set pieces that nicely create the convent scenes and the in-and-around Philadelphia circa 1978 setting. Its complemented by some truly great costumes by Lez Brotherston, especially the sequined habits in the closing number.

If you liked the movie, and I know a lot of you did, you will doubtless love the musical version. The Louisville run may be over by the time this review posts, but it’s worth seeking this show out on its next stop. It’s some of the most fun I’ve had seeing theater this year!

Sister Act

Featuring Melvin Abston, Gisela Adisa, Florrie Bagel, Brian Calí, Ta’Rea Campbell, Charles Barksdale, Karen Elliott, Diane J. Findlay, Chester Gregory, Stephanie Hayslip, Erin Henry, Brian M. Love, Micaela Martinez, Mary Jo McConnell, Michael Millan, Ashley Moniz, Paul Nygro, Amy Persons, Richard Pruitt, Ernie Pruneda, Dawn Rother, Mary Searcy, Angie Marie Smith, Natalie Storrs, Kelly E. Waters, Tad Wilson, Lynne Wintersteller, Carla Woods, and DaShaun Young.

January 15-12, 2014

PNC Broadway in Louisville
The Kentucky Center
501 West Main Street
Louisville, KY 40202