Based on the 1992 hit film starring Whopie Goldberg, “Sister Act” became a stage musical in 2011 and had a semi-successful Broadway run for just over a year. Since then, it has played on tour across the country and is currently enjoying an engagement at the Westchester Broadway Theatre where you can also get dinner with the show. “Sister Act” is probably far more comfortable in this venue than it ever was on Broadway.
Zuri Washington (a power vocalist of the first order) stars as Deloris Van Cartier, a lounge singer who accidentally witnesses a brutal murder carried out by her gangster boyfriend (Philip Michael Baskerville). Under the protection of a detective who is sweet on her (clownish Danny Wilfred), Deloris is placed in protective custody at a convent. Masquerading as a nun, Deloris soon locks horns with the Mother Superior (Mary Jo McConnell) even as she takes over direction of the convent’s sad-sack choir. The choir springs to life under Deloris’ tutelage and becomes so popular that it isn’t long before Deloris has drawn undue publicity threatening her cover.
With music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Glenn Slater and book by Bill and Cheri Steinkellner, “Sister Act” has always been little more than “Some Like It Hot” in nun drag. The movie had a real sense of infectious fun enhanced by the star power of Goldberg and no less than Maggie Smith playing the Mother Superior. The musical, however, seems rather old hat and familiar with a book that relies primarily on obvious jokes about nuns already exhausted by the “Nunsense” franchise. The score is bouncy without being especially memorable, but “Fabulous, Baby!” (led by Washington) tends to live up to its name and “Raise Your Voice” gives all the nuns the opportunity to raise the roof.
Director/choreographer Donna Drake has made “Sister Act” a lively and loud affair going for the broad and brassy at every turn. Most of the performances here tend towards the cartoonish, but Miss Washington deserves credit for carrying most of this unwieldy beast on her slender shoulders. She’s thoroughly believable as someone who could light up a Vegas stage and she has excellent chemistry with the cast of giddy nuns played with big smiles by Lani Corson, Katelyn Lauria and Sandy Rosenberg. McConnell is a tad too low-key as the Mother Superior for my tastes, but she brings much-needed gravity to the role and does a nice job with her solo number, “Haven’t Got a Prayer”.
The minimal set design by Steve Loftus seems spare in spots but serves its purpose as do Heather Carey’s costumes and Andrew Gmoser’s lighting. Bob Bray’s musical direction is right on-target and his small pit band sounds far more robust than the number of musicians (7) would indicate. It should also be noted that WBT still offers one of the most reasonable theatre deals around. Dinner and show can range from $59 to $89 and the food is all-around excellent. Compare that with Broadway where a ticket alone averages well over $100.
“Sister Act” continues at the Westchester Broadway Theatre in Elmsford, New York through Sunday, July 1. For further information or ticket reservations call the theatre box office at 914.592.2222 or visit: www.broadwaytheatre.com.
Tom Holehan is one of the founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: firstname.lastname@example.org. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.