SISTER ACT music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Glenn Slater, book by Cheri and Bill Steinkellner with Douglas Carter Beane, directed by Jerry Zaks (Mirvish/Whoopi Goldberg/Stage /Troika). At the Ed Mirvish Theatre (244 Victoria). To November 4, Tuesday-Saturday and November 4 at 8 pm, matinees Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday 2 pm. $35-$130. 416-872-1212. See listing. Rating: NNN
There's some heavenly singing but decidedly earthbound storytelling in Sister Act.
The touring Broadway musical follows Deloris Van Cartier (Ta'Rea Campbell), a Philadelphia nightclub singer and wannabe star, who witnesses a gangland slaying by her boyfriend (Kingsley Leggs) and is hidden by the police in a convent until she can testify.
It's no surprise when Deloris, who enjoys the good things in life, butts heads with the stern Mother Superior (Hollis Resnik), and equally predictable that they'll end up respecting each other by play's end. Along the way, Deloris bonds with the other sisters and, in one of the musical's best scenes, teaches the tin-ear convent choir to sing on key with joy, complex harmonies and funk.
On the plus side, the voices are great, giving spice to Alan Menken and Glenn Slater's stylistically varied songs that have touches of gospel, Motown, disco and other 70s favourites.
Menken treats the musical styles - the show is set in 1977 and 1978 - with a sly humour. In I Could Be That Guy, Eddie (E. Clayton Cornelious), the insecure policeman with a crush on Deloris, starts by putting himself down because he's known as "Sweaty Eddie," but then fantasizes about being a smooth, seductive Barry White clone, complete with the requisite moves and clothes.
Slater's lyrics are sometimes witty, as in It's Good To Be A Nun, in which the sisters, all named Mary something, reveal their self-mortifying secrets to the newly arrived Deloris, dubbed Mary Clarence by the Mother Superior.
Resnik has the right wisecracking tartness as the convent head, while Leggs has a touch of lounge-act sleaziness in his musical numbers. Standouts among the sisters are Florrie Bagel as the perky Mary Patrick and Lael Van Keuren as the shy novitiate Mary Robert, who discovers her voice both musically and personally.
Though her singing is fine, Campbell could provide more of a sense of Deloris' journey from victimized woman to aspiring performer and finally self-confident friend; the show's emotional climax, in which Deloris is caught between a desire for success and loyalty to her new sisters, is flat. Blame, at least in part, the show's book, that often relies on two-dimensional characters and unnecessarily draws out the second half's action.
Even so, this is a polished production, with entertaining moments and some splashy visuals, including a last-scene light show that plays off stained glass and glitzy habits.