God was the first of all composers and conductors: The Lord told Job that, at the laying of the foundations of the Earth, The morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy. (I guess that makes him the first critic, too.)
So I assume the Creator would have taken to Sister Act, an infectiously joyous shout-out in which many daughters of God (and a few rogue sons) set throats and booties going full-throttle.
The musical, now on a national tour under the direction of Broadway veteran Jerry Zaks, moves the story back to the late 70s and improves on Whoopi Goldbergs 1992 film.
Composer Alan Menken and lyricist Glenn Slater cleverly spoof and pay homage to musical styles of the period. Playwright Douglas Carter Beane has honed the libretto by Cheri and Bill Steinkellner; some jokes work at once, some take a beat to settle, and most click. (Well, up to the slapstick chase near the end of Act 2.)
The result sent spirits soaring Tuesday at Ovens Auditorium, where the standing ovation Charlotteans inevitably give Broadway tours seemed more heartfelt and justified.
Patina Miller, a native of nearby Pageland, S.C., put her stamp on the role of Deloris Van Cartier in London and New York but isnt touring. I didnt miss her, once TaRea Campbell cut loose: Campbell has the pipes to deliver the rousing songs and a dignity that gives her just as much presence when shes quiet.
Deloris, you may recall, is the would-be singer who sees her boyfriend kill a stool pigeon. A cop, anxious to protect this lone witness, hides her in a South Philadelphia convent.
There she butts heads and dogma with the Mother Superior (tartly funny Hollis Resnik, a worthy opponent for Campbell), until Deloris gives the sad-sack choir new juice and attracts worshippers whose donations may keep the convent from being sold.
The show will be funniest if you catch the in-jokes. Mother Superior asks for a Bible, and a newly hip nun hands her a copy of Variety magazine, which has billed itself for decades as the show-business bible.
Folks who lived through the disco era will get the musical references, from a monsignor (Richard Pruitt) who channels Barry White to a dance number that samples The Hustle.
Eddie, the cop with a crush on Deloris (crowd-pleaser E. Clayton Cornelious) has a ballad that starts like Lou Rawls and shifts up to Marvin Gaye. Curtis (urbane Kingsley Leggs) and his henchman do a nastily funny number the Spinners might have sung and danced to, had they crooned about whacking a witness.
Three things make this tour more impressive than some weve had. First, the big pit band: A dozen musicians produce a hefty sound under conductor Brent Alan Huffman.
Second, attention to detail: Some of the convents stained-glass windows are plyboarded, as they would be in a tough South Philly neighborhood; those get repaired a few at a time, as fortunes improve.
Third, depth of cast: All the nuns have energy, focus and warmth. (Kudos to understudy Mary Jo McConnell, who took over the role of salty Mary Lazarus and made it her own.)
The black Deloris unity with this nearly all-white crew of sisters makes us ponder a truth we usually ignore: However closely people of different races work and play together, we rarely worship as one. Sister Act teasingly intertwines soul music with music meant for the soul and reminds us they can be the same thing.
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