1992’s Sister Act was one of the best comedies of the 90s, and its huge success is not forgotten today. Closely followed by a 1993 film sequel (Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit), it went on to inspire a musical adaptation that premiered at California’s Pasadena Playhouse in 2006, London’s West End in 2009, and on Broadway in 2011. Like the film, the musical has become a phenomenon with productions all around the world and now one touring the United States. I caught the show in my city, and I’m here to testify.
Since music is such an important part of the Sister Act story, it was essential for the score of this musical to be impressive in order to do justice to the source material. Thankfully, the songs do not disappoint, due in no small part to the great talents of their authors, composer Alan Menken (Aladdin, Enchanted) and lyricist Glenn Slater (The Little Mermaid, Love Never Dies). There are some quite funny moments in numbers like “It’s Good to Be a Nun” and “Haven’t Got a Prayer.” Songs like the Act II bookends “Sunday Morning Fever” and “Spread the Love Around” are full of energy and crazy vocals. And more intimate numbers like “The Life I Never Led” and the titular “Sister Act” are really touching. Overall, the score is balanced and impressive.
One of the highlights of the show for me is the talent of the cast members. Ta’Rea Campbell captures lead character Deloris’ sassy energy perfectly and belts out songs like “Take Me to Heaven” and “Fabulous, Baby!” effortlessly. Lael Van Keuren plays the timid Sister Mary Robert with sympathy and tenderness, which makes her breakthrough all that much more satisfying to watch. Florrie Bagel portrays the dorky, energetic Sister Mary Patrick (memorably played in the film by Kathy Najimy) with excellent comedic timing and personality. As the tentative police lieutenant “Sweaty” Eddie Souther, E. Clayton Cornelious shines, particularly in his show-stopping tune “I Could Be That Guy.” And Hollis Resnik gives a solid, if not thrilling, performance as Mother Superior. In her defense, she had big shoes to fill, as the role was played on Broadway by the eminent Victoria Clark (The Light in the Piazza, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella) and Carolee Carmello (Parade, Scandalous).
To describe the visual elements of Sister Act, I take a note from its tagline because it certainly is “Gloriously Broadway.” The audience is primed for amazement when the simple church hallway backdrop and plain habits worn by the nuns are replaced with glittering costumes and two-story-high, multicolored, flashing set pieces, not to mention an impressive, glimmering statue of the Virgin Mary. This is, after all, a traditional Broadway-style show with all the bells and whistles. But luckily, the show doesn’t hinge on the visuals; there is just enough valuable material in the book and the songs are of such quality that this show is really quite well-rounded. It’s not winning any awards for innovation, but for Broadway fans, it’s simply divine.