“SISTER ACT”

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The Whoopi Goldberg-produced “Sister Act” — which is based on the movie of the same name that starred Ms. Goldberg back in 1992 — features a sultry songstress, a ruthless gangster, bumbling cops, and, of course, nuns… lots of smiling, singing, dancing nuns.

It’s almost enough to make you want to become a nun yourself; who knew they had so much fun?

The plot is simple: after would-be nightclub chanteuse Deloris Van Cartier witnesses her gangster boyfriend rub out a confederate who may or may not have snitched on him to the cops, she goes on the lam, eventually finding herself — with the help of a friendly policeman — hiding out amid the nuns at a nearby convent. As the Mother Superior, who clashes with the streetwise, tough-talking Deloris right from the start, convinces her to help her whip into shape her talentless, tone-deaf choir, and Deloris’ boyfriend and his goons search high and low but can’t find her (at least at first)… hilarity, not to mention some kick-ass musical numbers, ensues.

The show starts slowly, as the writers take their time introducing the story’s basic premise — but once Deloris hits that convent and the nuns take center stage… watch out. They’re a predictable lot — there’s the stooped old nun, the bespectacled, grim-faced nun, the perpetually cheery nun (the role made famous, incidentally, by the delightful Kathy Najimy in the movie), the young, sweetly innocent nun… they’re all on hand, every last one of them, and pretty soon we’re watching them a whole lot more than we’re watching Deloris (who, disguised as Sister Mary Clarence — the only African-American in the group — sticks out about as much as you’d expect).

As Deloris, Patina Miler displays a powerful voice and just the right amount of sass, but it’s Victoria Clark as the Mother Superior who really stands out: funny in some scenes, troubled in others, Clark turns in a performance of remarkable depth. (Her appeals to God for guidance and wisdom on how to handle Deloris reveal a vulnerability, an uncertainty, that make her, without question, the most fully-realized character in the show.)

John Treacy Egan as Joey, the overweight goon with the big ol’ smile and the surprisingly graceful dance moves, is delightful, as well.

The set design by Klara Zieglerova — which includes, for much of the second act, a magnificent church interior that boasts not only a “statue” of the Virgin Mary but also enough fake stained glass to take your breath away — is a real eye-catcher, too, and the costumes by Lez Brotherston, especially when the church goes glitzy and the nuns start dressing like chorus girls in a Las Vegas revue, are wonderful. (Tacky, but wonderful.)

Some of the tunes have that unmistakable Disney sound (small wonder; Disney vet Alan Menken penned the fun, if not overly memorable, score), and as for the book (by sitcom scribes Cheri and Bill Steinkellner, with “additional material” by Douglas Carter Beane), some of the one-liners (and there were quite a few) were laugh-out-loud funny. [/content_block]

Bottom line: “Sister Act” might not be the best show on Broadway, but it’s certainly one of the most entertaining.

THEATRE REVIEW by Stuart R. Brynien