The show ended to a standing ovation. On stage, there was a bedazzled church and more glitter than you’ll ever otherwise have the chance to see.
If you ask me, the amount of glitz alone was enough to make “Sister Act” at the Durham Performing Arts Center enjoyable. But if your love of gaudiness and disco-themed regalia is, God forbid, not as strong as mine, there are a few other reasons to check out this famously crowd-pleasing musical.
The play opened Tuesday evening, May 14th and will run through Sunday, the 19th with extra matinee shows on the weekend. Part of the Broadway series at D.P.A.C., the play was produced by Whoopi Goldberg, Stage Entertainment, and Troika Entertainment. Upon opening on Broadway in 2011, “Sister Act” received five Tony Award nominations including Best Original Score and Best Musical. The play is an adaptation of the 1992 film, which features Whoopi Goldberg as a disco-loving singer turned singing nun.
The indulgently upbeat, catchy score is one of the most enjoyable aspects of the play. “Sister Act” features music by the eminent, multi-Academy, Grammy and Golden Globe-winning composer Alan Menken (Little Shop of Horrors, Beauty and the Beast, Enchanted, Little Mermaid).
Drawing on Disco and Motown sounds, the songs kept me entertained and the musical’s pace flowing.
Ta’Rea Campbell plays Deloris, the singer who wants more than anything to ‘make it’ and be ‘fabulous.’ She witnesses her lover (a shady, cruel mobster) murder one of his henchmen and is consequently forced into hiding. In need of an unlikely new identity and safe haven, she winds up in a convent—where she inspires her largely tone-deaf, timid sisters to sing with passion, skill, and heart.
The shows’ main players have astounding voices, and it is a joy simply to appreciate their talent. Campbell is very well cast as Deloris, and her voice carries the play—providing the energy and emotion that keeps it afloat.
Florrie Bagel plays Mary Patrick—a young postulate who, with the encouragement of Deloris, finds her voice and gains a hunger for self-discovery. Bagel’s performance, like Campbell’s, is winning and lively. Her voice is also extremely strong, and the spirit that underlies her transformation is infectious.
Mother Superior’s piety provides a fairly effective foil to Deloris’s disco-loving, sacrilegious ways. As the play progresses, however, it becomes clear that the joy, connectivity, and humanism of the song-and-dance-oriented, disco world is not so different from the divinity, joy, and unity that Mother Superior hopes her convent fosters.
The outside world, in all of its messy, profane glory, is brought into the walls of the church and convent. And, to Mother Superior’s surprise, this intrusion is not disastrous. In fact, the combination somehow works—producing something both unhallowed and divine.
There are some corny and fairly stale jokes littered throughout that the play probably could have done without. At times I had a hard time embracing the campiness and, instead, wished for a higher level of sophistication—with regard to the comedy and character development.
The play is very formulaic and doesn’t challenge, subvert or complicate expectations. This can become a bit tiresome.
But, then again, “Sister Act” isn’t aiming for something complicated. And it delivers on the levels at which it plays. If you go, go for the singing—go for the glitter—and go for the joy.