New York City Theater
Broadway Theater, Broadway
In the unabashedly entertaining “Sister Act,” a flock of religious prepare for the 1979 visit to Philadelphia of John Paul II by swinging their glittery scapulas. Blessings on them all. The musical is a cheerful concoction with feisty heroine, acerbic antagonist and gang of pursuing killers who deliver comic songs.
The plot has nightclub singer Deloris Van Carter put into a witness protection program after watching her boyfriend mow down a stool pigeon. Disguised as a nun, she’s sent to a run-down, poverty-stricken church and convent. Hearing the choir of nuns plod their way through hymns, Deloris decides to add a joyful noise, getting, as she says, celibate nuns to shake their buns.
Of course, Mother Superior objects to all the newfangled ways. She relents as she sees how, with increasing skill, the sisters soon attract a full house of worshippers, along with enough lettuce to save the building.
With catchy Philly soul and disco music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Glenn Slater and a libretto credited to Cheri and Bill Steinkellner (with a major assist by playwright Douglas Carter Beane), the well-oiled machine hums along. The book is minuscule, but the score is felicitous, especially the murderous “When I Find My Baby” and the tuneful “Within These Walls.”
Directed with superficial efficiency by Jerry Zaks, Patina Miller is an energetic Deloris, with the always excellent Victoria Clark as the wry Mother Superior and Fred Applegate as a cherubic monsignor. Gangsters and nuns get chances to shine and how can anyone resist a show with a lyric that goes “The world’s your oyster/ When you’re locked in a cloister”?
--David A. Rosenberg
May 1, 2011