You probably remember Whoopi Goldberg's popular film Sister Act from 1992, an unlikely story about an aspiring singer who witnesses a murder and needs to be hidden until the trial — in a convent. Of course, the contrast between Goldberg and the staid nuns, especially the Mother Superior (played by Maggie Smith). It became a musical in 2009 in London, in 2011 on Broadway and now a touring production. Sister Act: The Musical opened Tuesday at the Aronoff Center.
Of course, Goldberg isn't in it, 20 years later. But she is the producer, and her attitude prevails. Her statement about the show pretty well sums it up: "Sister Act is not rocket science — it's hell-bent on being fun and silly, with a little heart thrown in." That's pretty much what I expected.
What surprised me was the talent of the touring cast, performers who are fully committed to deliver an evening of entertainment. Ta'rea Campbell has star power in the Delores/Sister Mary Clarence role, and she's surely a better singer than Whoopi Goldberg ever was. She conveys the shift from attitude to gratidude with sincerity. Hollis Resnik, a veteran musical theater performer from Chicago, captures the starchy disdain needed for the Mother Superior.
The entire ensemble is solid, especially Lael Van Keuren as the innocent postulant who breaks out of her shell, Florrie Bagel as an enthusiastic, starstruck nun and Diane J. Findlay as an elderly nun who finds her mojo. E. Clayton Cornelious is the socially inept cop looking out for Delores, in part because he had a crush on her in high school; he has dreams of being a smooth operator ("I Could Be That Guy," which features some astonishing costume changes as he fantasizes). And there are cartoonish villains: Delores's violent one-time boyfriend Curtis played by Kingsley Leggs. His three thugs, played hilariously by Ernie Pruneda, Charles Barksdale and Jason Simon bring the house down when they explain how they can have their way with the ladies, even if they're nuns ("Lady in the Long Black Dress").
Of course, Sister Act is full of stereotypes and predictable humor, but its all done with energy and polish, which makes it worth seeing. Production values are excellent, from a lot of quick costume changes (you can't imagine how many acres of glittering material went into this show) to a psychedelic Philadelphia cathedral interior that gets wilder and brighter as the story builds, culminating in a performance for the Pope.
There's nothing profound about Sister Act, which is part of the fun.