Something remarkable happened Tuesday night at the Community Center Theater early in the national touring production of “Sister Act.” On the way to the average, uninspired, hit movie-based Broadway musical, a witty, irreverent and completely fun entertainment emerged and hung around for most of the 21/2 hour show.
“Sister Act” was a middling 1992 comedy caper film starring Whoopi Goldberg, Maggie Smith and Harvey Keitel, which shockingly grossed more than $230 million and consequently spawned a sequel, “Sister Act 2” and subsequently the Broadway musical.
There is a fair amount of solid creativity in the genealogy of “Sister Act” with the clever screenwriter Paul Rudnick writing the original screenplay, though he took the name Joseph Howard in the credits after numerous re-writes by others. Talented composer Marc Shaiman (“Hairspray”) oversaw the integral musical component, and though neither he nor Rudnick are involved with the musical, their comedic influence can be felt throughout.
For the musical adaptation, Alan Menken (“Little Shop of Horrors, “Beauty and the Beast”) wrote the music, Glenn Slater wrote the lyrics, and Cheri and Bill Steinkellner wrote the book. The Broadway production received five 2011 Tony Award nominations, including best musical and best original score.
The musical’s ridiculous story line can’t really be called a plot, but it does put the characters in motion and get them where they need to be to fill the main points of the narrative. In 1977 Philadelphia, Deloris Van Cartier (the brassy Ta’Rea Campbell) – a wannabe nightclub singer who idolizes Donna Summer – accidentally witnesses a murder committed by her sometime-boyfriend Curtis (Melvin Abston). After telling the police what she saw, Deloris is hustled into “witness protection” as a nun in an obscure city convent.
The musical trudges along up to this point, but once inside the convent walls a silly, joke-filled musical breaks out, with songs such as “It’s Good To Be a Nun.” Deloris and the Mother Superior (a fine, droll Hollis Resnik) don’t particularly get along, but they’re going to have to work it out. The nuns’ choir is dreadful, but Deloris whips it into shape with the faux-gospel numbers “Raise Your Voice” and “Take Me to Heaven.”
Other funny, spoofy numbers include policeman Eddie’s lament “I Could Be That Guy,” sung by Chester Gregory, and the over-the-top satire “Lady in the Long Black Dress,” sung by Curtis’ three hysterically clueless henchman Joey, Pablo and TJ (Tad Wilson, Chris Chatman, Charles Barksdale). Anthony Van Laast’s smart choreography expertly parodies ’70s dance styles throughout the production. Florrie Bagel as Sister Mary Patrick and Ashley Moniz as Sister Mary Robert are standouts.
The dramatic climax feels dull in comparison to the knowing satire that has come before, but at least “Sister Act” offers some redemption.
Call The Bee’s Marcus Crowder, (916) 321-1120. Follow him on Twitter @marcuscrowder.