BWW Reviews: SISTER ACT Dazzles at The Kennedy Center
If I could pick one show that was perfect to see on a somewhat overcast Halloween night, the Kennedy Center's current touring production of SISTER ACT, running now through November 10th, would undoubtedly be it. With its consistent sense of humor, dazzling costumes, and powerhouse voices, this touring company delivers a delightfully sassy night of musical theatre.
For those, like me, who are familiar with the original SISTER ACT movie, starring Whoopi Goldberg, Maggie Smith, and Kathy Najimy, the basic plot has remained the same. Struggling lounge singer Deloris Van Cartier (Ta'Rea Campbell) witnesses her gangster boyfriend Curtis (Melvin Abston) commit murder behind his club. In order to stay safe until she can testify against him in court, Deloris is forced to hide out in a convent, where she struggles to understand and conform to its staunch rules and schedule.
Much to the dismay of the rigid Mother Superior (Hollis Resnik), Deloris eventually finds a connection with the church choir, and uses her bold diva methods to raise their voices (and dance moves) to new heights. While her success with the choir garners positive attention for the church, Deloris also blows her cover, and has to find a way not only to stay out of danger, but also be her best possible self.
The show, which was nominated for five 2011 Tony Awards, does have some interesting differences from the film. Instead of the West Coast in the early 1990s, this production starts off on Christmas Eve, 1977. Some of the movie characters are also slightly more developed on stage, which ultimately makes for a fuller show.
For those who loved "Hail Holy Queen" and "My God (My Guy)" in the original movie, fear not. While those songs aren't present in the stage version, multi-award-winning composer Alan Menken (LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, LITTLE MERMAID, and ENCHANTED) and lyricist Glenn Slater (THE LITTLE MERMAID) have enriched the show with a variety of songs, from classic musical theater ballads like "Sister Act", to Curtis's wonderfully sinister Motown tune, "When I Find My Baby". Though some of the songs may have initially seemed superfluous, by the end of each one, I was either laughing or clapping so hard, I couldn't imagine leaving them out of the show.
Ta'Rea Campbell, as Deloris, has a huge job on her hands. She has to engage the audience from the beginning, enough for them to find her endearing, but also tacky and hilarious. I must say, she does this with style. While Whoopi Goldberg took a more sarcastic approach to Deloris, Campbell incorporates a much saucier diva, making her character's emotional realizations all the more meaningful. Her songs, from "Fabulous, Baby!" to "Bless our Show," are all on point, and her voice soars.
Within the convent walls, the Mother Superior (Hollis Resnik) and Monsignor O'Hara (Richard Pruitt) are both formidable actors. Pruitt gets to shine in the second act, giving the audience a number of unexpected laughs, as his leading role in the church becomes more of a "Soul Train" emcee. Resnik has excellent comedic timing; however, her voice tends to become somewhat nasal, and her notes could be stronger.
And then there are the nuns. They are a wonderful ensemble, and each one manages to get a laugh or highlight, either from a spoken joke, or a surprise rap performance. DC native Florrie Bagel is hysterical as Sister Mary Patrick, and makes the character her own. She tickles audiences with every line, and has the standout voice to back up her acting gravitas. Ashley Moniz added new levels to Sister Mary Robert, and her performance of "The Life I Never Led" was a definite highlight.
Outside the convent lies a host of great characters as well. Chester Gregory returns to the role he previously played on Broadway as Deloris's love interest Eddie Souther, and steals the show with "I Could Be That Guy". He is adorable, and the audience loved every second of his transition from nervous cop to leading man (as well as a few unbelievably fast costume changes). Curtis's henchmen, Joey, Pablo, and TJ, (Todd A. Horman, Ernie Pruneda, and Charles Barksdale, respectively) are wonderfully goofy additions.
Praise must also be given to the costumes, designed by Lez Brotherston. Deloris's outfit sparkles the second it hits the stage, and the ensembles stay consistently colorful from there. By the last number, everyone is dazzling, almost to the point of needing sunglasses. Brotherston seems to have taken a "go big or go home" attitude, but in a fun way.
The scenery, by Klara Zieglerova, has its definite highs and lows. The stained walls of the church are stunning, but several backdrop pieces seemed a little underwhelming, as if left to be an afterthought. One notable example of this is the convent sleeping quarters, a dull gray canvas with a few white crosses that never seemed to be able to stay still.
The difficulty of a touring production has got to be adapting to your current theatre, and transitioning week after week. There were a few scene changes that took a little longer than expected, since pieces were moved back and forth, as if they were still figuring out where exactly things needed to land. Additionally, the first few scenes of the show seemed slightly hurried and stiff, as if the cast needed to get their jitters out of the way, and hit their stride.
That having been said, if you are unable to see Sister Act during its current run, you will be missing out on a genuinely good time. The show is consistently goofy and charming, the songs will be happily stuck in your head as soon as you leave the theatre, and the performances will remind you of why we go to these shows in the first place.
So do yourself a favor, and see the show while you can. It is a (literally) shining example of exceptionally fun musical theatre.