Whoopi Goldberg's reincarnation of the 1992 blockbuster film Sister Act is getting new life under the bright lights of Broadway. Bringing singing nuns to the stage has been a labor of love for Goldberg, who began the production in London and received rave reviews. Now, the musical comedy is rocking Broadway in New York City and has earned five Tony nominations, including best musical.
Sticking close to the plot of the film, the Sister Act musical follows Deloris Van Cartier as nightclub singer in 1970s Philadelphia who aspires to be the next Donna Summer. After seeing her gangster boyfriend shoot a man, she tells the cops and is forced into a witness protection program. Her hideout is a Philadelphia covenant.
The gaudy Deloris tries to adjust to life as humble nun. She joins the choir and turns disco classics into songs for Christ, much to the dismay of the Reverend Mother. The covenant gets press for its high-energy songs, which eventually blows Deloris' cover and her gangster boyfriend is out to get her for ratting to the police.
On The View, Goldberg said that Sister Act is a family show; bring the kids, grandparents and anyone who enjoys wholesome theatre. This is true, there is no edge or fire in this G-rated, Disney-type production. Sister Act is your traditional musical comedy, nothing groundbreaking and sometimes padded with musical theater clichés. However, if you are a fan of chorus line choreography, sequins and comedic drama, Sister Act might just get you sancitified. All of the elements are there, big voices, sing-a-long musical numbers (well-executed by Alan Menken, who superbly captured the Philadelphia musical sound of the '70s), a polished designed by Klara Zieglerova and a legendary Broadway director in Jerry Zaks.
Patina Miller played the lead, the role made famous by Goldberg in the film. Her voice was huge and she successfully carried the massive production, rightfully earning her a Tony nomination for best female lead in a musical. There will be some complaints that Miller isn't as gut-bustlingly funny as Goldberg in '92, but that is an unfair comparison. Whoopi is a comedic genius and a beast on the big screen—no one can compare to the Tony/Oscar/Emmy/Golden Globe/Grammy winner. Miller is a crowd pleaser and goes beyond expectations with her infectious stage presence and a voice fit for Broadway, but with soul—channeling the likes of Melba Moore in her Tony Award-winning performance in Hair over 40 years ago.
That said, the scene-stealer was from R&B singer Chester Gregory, who played the cop that put Deloris in hiding, otherwise known as "Sweaty Eddie." Gregory had his "And I Am Telling You" moment in the best number of the night, "I Could Be That Guy," declaring that he could be "that guy" for Deloris despite his height, sweating issues and other insecurities. The campy tune was the most memorable and head-nodding song of the evening.
Sister Act is a fun ride, bringing diverse audiences to Broadway with a little soul, camp and church.
Sister Act is currently playing at the Broadway Theatre in New York City.
(Photo: Walter McBride/WM Photography/Retna Ltd.)