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Sister Act Review: No Whoopi.

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Sister Act ran on Broadway between March 4, 2011 and August 26, 2012. Patina Miller went on to a Tony-winning performance in Pippin. Below is my review the night it opened, April 20, 2011:

Patina Miller, the newly-discovered diva making her Broadway debut as star of “Sister Act,” doesn’t thank God in her Who’s Who bio, and thank God for that. She thanks Whoopi Goldberg. In many ways, that makes more sense; in one way, it doesn’t. Whoopi is the lead producer and thus the major force behind making a musical adaptation out of the 1992 film whose major appeal was the performance of Whoopi Goldberg.

The 1990’s Reno lounge singer is now a 1970’s Philadelphia aspiring disco queen (a change that allows for original songs that imitate the Philadelphia Sound), but otherwise the plot is much the same: Deloris Van Cartier, born Deloris Carter, witnesses a mob murder, and is put into a witness protection program by disguising herself as a nun in a convent. The church to which the convent is attached is about to shut down for lack of attendance. The fake nun (spoiler alert) teaches the real nuns how to boogie in rousing gospel numbers that fill the pews and the collection basket, and she thus saves the day.

“Sister Act” the musical originated for some reason in London, but first-rate Broadway talent put it together, including composer Alan Menken (Little Shop of Horrors, Beauty and the Beast, etc.) and director Jerry Zaks (Guys and Dolls, Assassins, some 20 other Broadway shows, including — let’s not forget — The Addams Family.) There is even “additional book material” by Douglas Carter Beane (Xanadu, The Little Dog Laughed).

There are some 30 cast members, and it sometimes seems as if each and every one gets at least one number to do, and every number reveals a startling talent, such as Marla Mindelle as the meek novitiate who finds her voice and her courage in her two renditions of “The Life I Never Led.” Fred Applegate shines as the deep-voiced, dignified Monsignor O’Hara not above a little wheeling-dealing. Even the three thugs dispatched by the mob boss to kill Deloris (Caesar Samayoa, Demond Green and John Treacy Egan) get the funny and soulful “Lady in the Long Black Dress” about how, as ladies men, they’ll have no trouble winning over the nuns in order to gain entrance to the convent.

Much of the musical, of course, relies on the sinuous presence and brassy pipes of Patina Miller, with a graceful assist by the lovely-voiced Victoria Clark (Light in the Piazza, Titanic, Urinetown) as Mother Superior, who was not in the West End cast. Of particular note in the production is Klara Zieglerova’s terrific set, which alternates between an awe-inspiring church (stained glass windows and huge stone archways) and ticklingly tacky disco. More often than not, however, my reaction during this rich parade of talent was: I cannot wait to see him/her in a better show. There is no disguising how bland and silly “Sister Act” is, another in the nuns-are-fun genre, requiring not just a suspension of disbelief but an unwavering faith in the hilarity of a sister in sequins. (Lez Brotherston’s costumes are over-the-top glittering show biz nun ensembles in precisely the way you’d expect.) Patina Miller does not exhibit the comedic chops of Whoopi Goldberg, and (although there is plenty of comic shtick), “Sister Act” the musical is less about wit than it is about fabulousness. Make no mistake, Patina Miller is fabulous; she has the God-given talent that surely would have brought her to Broadway without Whoopi, which might have been a better idea.

 Sister Act at The Broadway Theater Music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Glenn Slater, book by Cheri Steinkellner and Bill Steinkellner. Additional book material by Douglas Carter Beane. Directed by Jerry Zaks, choreographed by Anthony Van Laast, set design by Klara Zieglerova, costume design by Lez Brotherston, lighting design by Natasha Katz, sound design by John Shivers Cast: Patina Miller (Deloris Van Cartier), Victoria Clark (Mother Superior), Fred Applegate (Monsignor), Sarah Bolt (Sister Mary Patrick), John Treacy Egan (Joey), Demond Green (TJ), Chester Gregory (Eddie), Kingsley Leggs (Curtis), Marla Mindelle (Sister Mary Robert), Audrie Neenan (Sister Mary Lazarus). Caesar Samayoa (Pablo). , Jennifer Allen, Natalie Bradshaw, Charl Brown, Christina DeCicco, Holly Davis, Madeleine Doherty, Alan H. Green, Blake Hammond, Wendy James, Carrie A. Johnson, Kevin Ligon, Louise Madison, Marissa Perry, Ernie Pruneda, Corbin Reid, Lance Roberts, Rashidra Scott, Jennifer Simard, Lael Van Keuren, Roberta Wall, Alena Watters Running time: Two and a half hours with a 15-minute intermission Ticket prices: $51.50 – $136.50 premium tickets as high as $201.50. Rush Tickets: $26.50

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About New York Theater
Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

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