It’s the feel-good hit of the season! Sister Act‘s only real competition in that department is Priscilla Queen of the Desert. Sister Act has even less on its mind than the frothy Priscilla – and where pure fun and entertainment is concerned, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Indeed, this tale of disco diva Deloris Van Cartier (Patina Miller) put in protective custody disguised as a nun in a convent is solidly crafted, willfully un-serious musical comedy entertainment.
It apparently wasn’t always so: In its incarnation on London’s West End, everybody loved the show’s score and star Miller, but were unconvinced by the book. For its Broadway edition, the producers have hired an old musical comedy hand, director Jerry Zaks, who in turned called in Xanadu bookwriter Douglas Carter Beane to punch up Sister Act‘s dialogue. Whatever Zaks and Beane did, it worked: Sister Act zooms along with nary a dull moment (not even in the reflective second-act ballads, no small feat). Not deep or incisive, but why should it be?
While the structure of the show is traditional musical comedy, the score by composer Alan Menken and lyricist Glenn Slater successfully evokes Philly soul, funk and disco – all flavors that taste really good to me. Patina Miller is marvelously energetic, wryly funny and has one of those delicious big belting r&b voices.
The supporting company of nuns is terrific, with Audrie Neenan standing out as Sister Mary Lazarus. Legendary screen character actress Mary Wickes played Mary Lazarus, and Neenan honors everything Wickes brought to the part and gamely adds a very individual sparkle.
Neenan breaks out in a hilarious rap at one point. It is indicative of the detail that Mencken brought to scoring the show that her rap is very clearly from the early Sugarhill Records school of party rap – the only kind of hip-hop that would have gained any national attention by 1978, when the musical is set. While no-one on the creative team takes the story or show too seriously, Menken, Zaks and Beane take their craft seriously, and that makes all the difference.
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