By Gary Murray
Starring Ta’Rea Campbell and Hollis Resnik
Book by Bill and Sheri Steinkellner
Music by Alan Menken
Lyrics by Glenn Slater
Directed by Jerry Zaks
Sister Act the Musical is based on the 1992 film of the same name. The original film starred Whoopi Goldberg and was one of the biggest box office successes of the year. Disney scribe Alan Menken joined the team to turn the film into a musical. It plays as part of the Dallas Summer Musical season in Fair Park.
The work opens with a trio of girl singers belting a tune on stage in Philadelphia stage. The feature of the group is Deloris (Ta’Rea Campbell). She is a brash woman with massive amounts of talent and little luck. Deloris can sum up her life with the number “Fabulous, Baby!”
Deloris has a married boyfriend, local gangster Curtis Jackson (Kingsley Leggs). Curtis Jackson along with his henchmen takes out a guy they suspect of squealing on their nefarious activities. Deloris witnesses the murder and runs to Officer Eddie (E. Clayton Cornelious). Deloris recognizes him as Sweaty Eddie. It seems that Eddie had a thing for Deloris way back in high school.
Eddie stashes Deloris in a local convent. The mother superior doesn’t want anything to do with the secular world and tries to protect her sisters. But, the convent needs the money. It seems that the church may be closed and all the nuns shipped off to other churches. She tells Deloris to keep a low profile.
Very soon, Deloris takes over the choir and turns these off-key sisters into a giant group of harmonious rockers. Easily the best song of the first act is “It’s Good to Be a Nun” where the woman sing about the joys of being so close to the Lord. One woman, Sister Mary Robert (Lael Van Keuren), hasn’t taken her vows yet and is our unsure little mouse that eventually roars.
The popularity of the sisters singing garners the notice first of the people in the pews. The singing Deloris fills the church and fills the coffers. It also attracts the attention of the local media and the higher-ups in the Church. The more press notices Deloris receives, the more it feeds her ego and puts her in danger.
The Second Act is truly where the entire production takes off. The best numbers are concentrated in a final burst of singing and dancing by the sisters. They have the costumes and the moves that even get the attention of the Pope.
His Eminence wants to witness the miracle of the sister’s singing for himself. The media attention also catches the eye of Jackson who recognizes Deloris under the habit. He sends his henchman to take her out. They sing the biggest, show-stopping number in the production “Lady in a Long Black Dress.” It is a silly seduction of three less than glamorous males. It is full of false macho and a winning little tune.
The show ties itself up into a nice little bow with everybody ending up exactly where expected. By the time the entire cast does the last number “Spread the Love Around” the audience is on their feet cheering.
Ta’Rea Campbell takes command of this show as if it were written specifically for her. The actress has a massive voice that fills every nook and cranny of the theater stage. She is on stage for a good 70% of the show and draws the audience eye with every turn. This is the type of performance that Broadway is looking for every season and seldom finds. Ta’ Rea Campbell is a star in the making.
Another amazing performance was delivered by young Lael Van Keuren. She has easily the purest voice of the entire cast and uses it with the surety of a heavily seasoned performer. She is given her moment in Act II to perform and she shows that she is more than just a voice. This is another performer to take note of.
Much of the songs written by Alan Menken and Glenn Slater hark to early 1970s Philly Soul music, those sweet sounds that were the ear candy of AM radio before the beast of disco took over the airwaves. The music captures the feel of those long forgotten times while still being fresh and relevant.
The overall production of Sister Act is basically straight-forward and simple. There are no giant props (except for a very large Virgin Mary in the background). Unlike so many stage productions that rely on giant effects to get the audience in the seats, the makers of Sister Act use good, old-fashioned singing and dancing to keep the masses entertained.
Sister Act has most of the cast in habits for most of the production. They do dress them up more than once in spangles and flash. By the time we get to the finale, our sisters have gone from basic black to sparking sequins. The ending number has every cast member decked out in the finest of stage linen.
Sister Act is a winning musical experience but not a life changing event. It is slight and trite but a wondrous way to spend a Sunday matinee. It is much more up-lifting that the movie and charmingly zips along. It is just the kind of work that the Summer Musical season revels in.