BWW Reviews: Simplistic SISTER ACT Raises Voices, Hearts in Joyful Atlanta Return

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BWW Reviews: Simplistic SISTER ACT Raises Voices, Hearts in Joyful Atlanta ReturnMusicals, by their nature, require audiences to suspend their disbelief more than any other art form. No where else in entertainment will you consistently find something as unrealistic as people bursting into spontaneous four-part harmonies and sparkling unrehearsed choreography. However, when a musical is done properly, audiences willingly overlook the unbelievable, because what they are seeing reaches beyond realism and elicits actual emotions.

While "Sister Act: The Musical," playing through Sunday at the Fabulous Fox Theatre, is by no means the epitome of theatrical storytelling, it succeeds in spades in its primary goal, and that is simply to entertain and empower. With a toe-tapping 70's inspired score, a script that never takes itself too seriously, and enough sequins to blind half of metro-Atlanta, "Sister Act", the final show in Broadway Atlanta's season, is a feel good family-show that leaves audiences with a smile on their face and a tune on their lips.

Based on the 1992 film starring Whoopi Goldberg (who is a producer of the musical), the stage show rather liberally strays from its source, often resulting in generally exciting surprises, a difficult task for a musical based on a popular film. While the story has been transported from early-90's California to late-70's Philadelphia, it still centers on struggling disco singer Deloris Van Cartier (Ta'Rea Campbell) who witnesses her criminal boyfriend Curtis (Kingsley Leggs) commit murder. Afraid for her own life, Deloris turns to the police for protection, where much to their mutual surprise, "Sweaty" Eddie (E. Clayton Cornelious), who always had a crush on Deloris in high school, is now Officer Souther who is in charge of keeping her safe. From there, the plot points become murky, and honestly, a little inconsequential. The finer points of storytelling and character motivations get rushed in favor of witty zingers, touching character developments, and belting that soars to the heavens. As anyone who has seen the movie knows, Deloris jazzes up the struggling church choir, much to the disdain of the Mother Superior (Hollis Resnik, and in the process saves the church, becomes a star, and blows her cover with the mob before the choir's surprise papal performance.

With a book by Cheri and Bill Steinkellner (with many of the zingers added by Douglas Carter Beane, who wrote the musical adaptation of "Xanadu") and music by Tony, Oscar, and Grammy-winner Alan Menken ("Little Mermaid," "Beauty and the Beast," "Little Shop of Horrors," et al); and lyrics by Grammy-winner Glenn Slater ("Tangled," "Love Never Dies"), "Sister Act" knows what kind of show it is, and the audience loves that it does try too hard to be everything to everyone. The plot has holes the size of the Sistine Chapel and very little of the action, especially the comically staged chase scene, has a sense of urgency. However, with as much joy as the show provides, no one in the opening night audience seemed to care.

The cast of "Sister Act" is as talented as any that has come through Atlanta this year. Campbell shines in Deloris' biggest moments; for example, while I have seen the show's signature song "Raise Your Voice" on television and video numerous times, it never really inspired me. However, I was genuinely moved by Deloris' belief in the importance of music, and in Campbell's capable hands, finally realized why the song had been so popular on Broadway.

Resnik's conservative Reverend Mother matches Deloris in sass and has her own moments to show-off vocally. As in the film, Sisters Mary Robert (Lael Van Keuren), Mary Patrick (Florrie Bagel), and Mary Lazarus (Diane J. Findlay) provide an added layer of heart and humor, but it is Van Keuren who is the biggest revelation as she transforms from the meek postulate to the confident nun with a crystal clear belt, who stands up for her "sister."

While the title suggests that the show is all about the singing sisters, the men pull their weight as well. Cornelious gives "Sweaty" Eddie equal parts Urkel and Shaft while proving he is just as likely to be singing and dancing on "Soul Train" as he is to be walking the beat. Curtis and his hysterical mob enforcers, dim-witted nephew TJ (Charles Barkdale), Spanish-speaking Pablo (Ernie Pruneda), and hulking lady's man Joey (Todd A. Horman), form a comic foursome that could do for the Temptations what the Monkees did for the Beatles.

Admittedly, "Sister Act: The Musical" requires its audience to abandon any need for plausible plot development, but what it does do is provide two and a half hours of unbridled fun. You don't have to be a Catholic school alum (like I am) to appreciate the friendship and faith found in this family-friendly story about the power of music, self-expression, and sisterhood. So, get your tickets to "Sister Act: The Musical" in its return to its Atlanta roots by calling 1-855-ATL-TIXX or visiting FoxATLTix.com.

Photo: "Sister Act" cast
Photo Credit: Broadway Atlanta

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