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‘Sister Act’: different story, same fun time

Sister Act Tour

Deloris Van Cartier (Ta'Rea Campbell) and company bring down the house in "Sister Act." Joan Marcus/Courtesy photo

By
From page A7 | April 10, 2014 |

Check it out
What: “Sister Act”
Where: Community Center Theater, 1301 L St., Sacramento
When: 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday
Tickets: $21-$88
Info: 916-557-1999, www.tickets.com

I loved the 1992 movie, “Sister Act,” starring Whoopi Goldberg. It had heart, it had soul, it had gentle humor and pathos, it had mobsters and nuns, it had familiar hymns cleverly segueing into contemporary lyrics and musical beat. As a kid who grew up with those nuns, it was very special to me.

I didn’t much like “Sister Act II,” which tried to build on the special nature of the original and just didn’t work.

“Sister Act,” the musical, is kind of like that. It’s big and glitzy and splashy, and all the plot elements are there. It also has the largest statue of the Blessed Mother ever seen in any church. But that certain magical “something” that drew me to the original movie is just missing.

That is not to say that it isn’t a fun show. It’s a visual and aural spectacular that is sure to please any audience. This reworked version of “Sister Act” is written by Cheri and Bill Steinkellner with additional book material by Douglas Carter Beane.

The 1992 era of the original film has been set back to the 1970s so that the music and costumes can be tribute to the disco beat (proving that disco does seem destined to live forever!). Music is by Alan Menken with lyrics by Glenn Slater, and while these gentlemen definitely had them rockin’ in the aisles, I can’t remember a single tune in the show.

The story concerns wannabe lounge singer Deloris Van Cartier (Ta’Rea Campbell) who witnesses a shooting by her gangster boyfriend Curtis (Melvin Abston) and is taken into police protection, hidden away in the local convent attached to a church that suffers from failing attendance.

Deloris becomes Sister Mary Clarence and sparks fly constantly between her and Mother Superior (Hollis Resnik), who decides to give her the one job where she thinks the singer can’t cause trouble — singing with the convent choir. That Sister Mary Clarence is able to turn the truly awful choir into a chorus worthy of a nightclub performance in a matter of one rehearsal stretches the imagination and leaves out all the fun interactions between her and individual choir members that started the slow reformation of the movie choir.

However, the point of this show is not the plot, but the musical numbers, each more glittery than the previous, ending with everyone in sequined habits raising their arms in the manner of a last act finale for the pope, who gets into it as enthusiastically as the audience.

Campbell gives a wonderful performance as Deloris, clueless as to exactly how much trouble she is in and impatient to get out of the convent at all costs. She has a powerful set of pipes and looks stunning. Her friendship with her fellow sisters deepens as the show progresses and her inherent sweetness shows through the tough disco doll exterior.

Resnik is an imposing Mother Superior, very much rooted in the life “here within these walls.” She believes the convent is her protection and wants to keep the sisters in her care from the dangers outside.

Outside, life is grim. Filled with smut and scandal to the brim.
But here within these walls, days are filled with grace.
God is in His place, His wisdom still respected.

She is not a fan of the changes Sister Mary Clarence has brought to the choir, though the pastor, Monsignor O’Hara (Richard Pruitt) sees the financial possibilities. (Gone entirely is the sub plot of Mary Clarence leading the sisters out of the convent and into the community, positively affecting the lives of those around them.)

Wonderful performances are turned in by Florrie Bagel as Sister Mary Patrick who, with the wimple hiding most of her face is very reminiscent of Kathy Najimy, who played the role in the movie.

Ashley Moniz is the postulant, Mary Robert, who is brought out of her shell by Mary Clarence and shows that she can pull out all the stops.
Sister Mary Lazarus, the convent’s original choir director, is played by Roberta B. Wall, who understudied the role on Broadway and whom long-time Davis residents may remember as Roberta Burger — daughter of local actress Erna Burger — when she was growing up here.

Chester Gregory is Eddie Souther, “Sweaty Eddie,” the cop who has had a crush on Deloris since high school. He has dreams of being a disco dancer and lets everyone know in “I Could Be That Guy,” which has some amazing costume transformations.

If you are expecting the same kind of experience as the movie, you won’t find it in this show. But if you are looking for a full-out, rock-the-house, glittery Broadway musical, this will be your cup of tea.

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