Who can explain the allure of watching rock ‘n’ rolling nuns wearing sequined habits and dancing and singing in an outrageous musical with spiritual overtones? No matter the answer, those present Tuesday on opening night of “Sister Act” at the Murat Theatre at the Old National Centre were caught up in the frenzy of a show that is as preposterously funny as it is inspirational. Presented by Broadway in Indianapolis, the touring production continues through Sunday, March 3.
“Sister Act,” the 1992 smash hit film starring Whoopi Goldberg, is the basis for “Sister Act” the musical. Premiering on Broadway in 2011, the show’s book is by Bill and Cheri Steinkellner, with music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Glenn Slater. Goldberg was one of the producers of the Broadway adaptation.
The musical, set in 1978 Philadelphia, tells the story of nightclub singer Deloris Van Cartier (Ta’Rea Campbell). After seeing her boyfriend, Curtis (Kingsley Leggs), kill an informer, she runs to a police station. There she is advised by a policeman, Eddie (E. Clayton Cornelius), to enter a witness protection program. Later, Deloris is sent to a convent because it is thought she can never be found there. Once there she butts heads with stern, no-nonsense Mother Superior (Hollis Resnik), who then assigns her to take over the sisters’ choir that sorely needs direction. From that point on, beliefs, values and cultures collide, but ultimately everyone involved is changed for the better because of it.
Ensuring the show’s fast pace and joyful exuberance is the mix of musical styles deriving from Menken and Slater’s dynamic score, which combines soul, funk and Motown styles with some Barry White–inspired crooning thrown in for laughs.
This national touring company of “Sister Act,” featuring a superbly talented cast of actor/singer/dancers, deserves plaudits for the energy and commitment brought to all roles — both large and small.
Campbell, as Deloris, gave an outstanding performance as the hardened yet kind-at-heart entertainer who finds both personal and spiritual salvation, not to mention sisterhood in the company of the women whose lives she transforms as she undergoes her own positive metamorphosis. Infusing her character with a strong presence, Campbell reinforced Deloris’ charisma with powerful vocals of songs that included “Raise Your Voice,” “Take Me to Heaven” and “Sister Act.” Singing with her in each of those numbers were the outstanding performers, all with magnificent voices, who played the engaging nuns in her choir.
Resnik was especially effective as the rigid, unbending Mother Superior, who is threatened by Deloris’ free-spirited attitudes and influence, but is ultimately won over when she discovers Sister Clarence’s (the identity Deloris is given when she first arrives at the convent) humanity. Demonstrating her own superior vocal gifts, Resnik was exceptional in “Here Within These Walls” and “Haven’t Got a Prayer.”
Strong performances were also turned out by Cornelius as Eddie, the likeable and charming cop with a crush on Deloris who fantasizes about being her boyfriend in “I Could Be That Guy”; and Lael Van Keuren as the shy, postulant Sister Mary Robert who discovers who she really is in “The Life I Never Led.”
Todd A. Horman, Ernie Pruneda and Charles Barksdale, who played Joey, Pablo and T.J., respectively, exhibited both vocal and comic flair as hoodlums chasing after Deloris. They were especially effective at harmonizing in “Haven’t Got a Prayer.”
Cementing the over-the-top (some might even say sacrilegious) characteristics of the show were the costumes — i.e. the glitzy nuns’ habits, designed by Lez Brotherston — and the gothic Queen of Angels church sanctuary turned Vegas stage set designed by Klara Zieglerova.
Tickets for “Sister Act” at the Murat Theatre at the Old National Centre are available at the Broadway Across America Box Office (downtown at 342 Massachusetts Avenue), Clowes Memorial Hall, Old National Centre Ticket Office, online at BroadwayAcrossAmerica.com or by phone at 1-800-982-2787.
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