I have always loved the music of Alan Menken and for good reason. He writes memorable melodies that move you the way music is supposed to: music that stirs the heart, stirs the soul, music that makes you happy to be alive. So you take Menken’s music, mix it with some of Glenn Slater’s comic lyrics, pour it over great source material from the original motion picture by Joseph Howard and you get the intoxicating cocktail which is Sister Act. Add to this divine concoction Ta’Rea Campbell as the leading lady and you have heaven on earth.
To say that watching Ms. Campbell is like seeing “a star is born” would be unfair. She has already starred as Nala in The Lion King on Broadway and the National Tour. It’s more accurate to say, “A star has arrived”. For Ms. Campbell is flawless. Her voice is a force to be reckoned with, her body has got it goin’ on, she can act, she can move and she’s beautiful. In two words, as her opening song will tell you, she is “Fabulous, Baby!”
For those of you who have had the supreme misfortune to have never seen the film, “Sister Act”, starring the great Whoopi Goldberg, allow me to elucidate the plot line. Deloris Van Cartier is an up and coming singer. Her shady boyfriend, Curtis, keeps promising to make her a star, but is short on delivery. When Curtis decides to bump off one of his misfortunate associates, Deloris unwittingly witnesses the crime. Fleeing for her life she takes refuge in a convent, disguising herself as one of the nuns. There she finds that the sisterly choir is not so heavenly and takes on the task of helping them to raise their voices in praise of the Lord with plenty of soul. But here she also encounters her nemesis, in the form of one, Mother Superior. Ultimately, throughout her ordeal, she discovers a sense of community as the sisters of the Queen of Angels parish rally to her side.
There are so many wonderful songs in this show. Take Me to Heaven which opens and closes the first act is first sung with a sexual connotation. But at the end of the act the same song with the same lyrics is sung in a completely different spiritual context and works beautifully. Now, that’s just great writing. Fabulous, Baby! is how we are introduced to Deloris. Raise Your Voice is a roof raiser where Deloris teaches the choir how to sing with their hearts. Sunday Morning Fever is a disco romp where the nuns let loose their new vocal prowess. The Life I Never Led is a heartfelt “I want” song by a shy novitiate and Spread the Love Around is a good feel finale. What I find most successful about this musical comedy is the balance between the camp, the irony and the real moments that are allowed to happen onstage. Kudos must go to the director, Jerry Zaks for allowing those moments “to be” their without commenting on them.
Kingsley Leggs is as slippery as a snake with a voice that kills as Curtis Jackson, the small time thug who croons , When I Find My Baby (a song in which he describes how he will kill Deloris once he gets his hands on her). E. Clayton Cornelious gets our sympathy as the bumbling but smooth voiced policeman, Eddie Souther, who has been in love with Deloris since high school. Lael Van Keuren is completely winning as the shy novice who literally and figuratively finds her voice when she bursts into “The Life I Never Led”. During “Lady in the Long Black Dress”, a number which resembles “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” (in its intent to make us love to hate the characters), Todd A. Horman, Ernie Pruneda and Charles Barksdale as the three thugs, Joey, Pablo and TJ charm their way into our hearts. Hollis Resnick is quite moving as the stoic Mother Superior for without her resistance to Deloris’s lust for life there wouldn’t be much drama.
The choreography by Anthony Van Laast is just loads of fun and I guess funnier still when you see members of a religious order kicking up their heels. I only wish that the Catholic church that I attended as a child looked like the glitzed up one designed by Klara Zieglerova for the Act II set. A giant statue of the Blessed Mother dominates the stage while a score of stained glass windows are illuminated by multi-colored lights. And if only the St. Joseph nuns that taught me the Baltimore Cathechism had worn the outrageous sequined robes created by Lez Brotherston for the finale, perhaps I would have paid closer attention. But do keep a sharp eye out during the finale as Pope Pius VI makes a surprise appearance. What more can I say? If you don’t go to see this show it would be a sin.
For tickets call 215-893-1999 or go online at www.kimmelcenter.org/broadway. The National Tour continues on to Providence, RI – Providence Performing Center, April 9 – 14, then to Hartford, CT – The Bushnell, April 16 – 21 and then to Act, Atlanta – Fox Theatre, April 23 – 28.
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