Kathleen Turner might be cursing and smoking up a storm in a play called High, but she’s got nothing on the Sister Act gals.
They’re dolled up in glitzy habits and putting on Vegas-style revues in Sister Act, the rote but pretty enjoyable adaptation of the 1992 movie comedy about a down low singer named Deloris Van Cartier who’s trying to be “incog-Negro” in a convent.
The weird thing about making a musical of this property is that, in the book songs, the nuns sing fine, naturally enough.
But then they rehearse their hymns and suddenly they’re way off-key — mainly so Deloris can teach them how to sing and they can sound good again.
After all, that’s the plot!
As Deloris — who hides out as Sister Mary Clarence — Patina Miller works hard to not imitate Whoopi Goldberg and ends up putting her stamp on the role with pipes and conviction.
As the Mother Superior, the wonderful Victoria Clark also carves out her own creation, though the supporting nuns have clearly been urged to ape their film counterparts, so the tourists can nab some recognition points.
But while the film’s nun numbers (like “I Will Follow Him”) were giddy and infectious in a more subtle way, this show opts for glitz, line dancing, and absurdity, as the nuns rap, sing about their “booties,” and practically engage in Busby Berkeley configurations.
Less would have been more.
The score is uneven (there’s a lyric that goes “If you got stigmata/Show me yours, I’ll show you mine”), but Alan Menken has cooked up some pleasing sounds derived from Philadelphia soul and other nostalgic genres, in between homages to Sondheim and to his own “Beauty and the Beast.”
And you watch a lot of the show smiling despite yourself.
A work of art?
No, it isn’t even Priscilla.
But you could have way less fun with religious people.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 20, 2011