Sing praise to the heavens, raise your voice and shake your groove thing, the Catholic church has gone disco. The National Tour of Sister Act, a Broadway musical based on the 1992 Whoopi Goldberg movie of the same name, opened in Toronto last week with a glitzy, sequenced, seventies splash. Adding to the fun of opening night, Mirvish productions invited along some real local nuns, and the seven girls still vying for the lead role of Dorothy on CBC's Over the Rainbow. It would appear that whether from Kansas or the convent, this show had something for everyone.
Sister Act tells the story of Deloris Van Cartier, an aspiring performer making the rounds in Philadelphia night clubs, who witnesses a shooting and goes into protective custody at a convent. The premise has been tweaked for the stage and set in the disco era. What is left of the popular nineties flick is a bedazzled, over the top frolic into the world of Catholicism and seedy nightclubs rolled together with above par comedy and some exceptional supporting performances.
Why director Jerry Zaks chose to set the production in the seventies remains a mystery, but the disco era costumes and choreography injected an extra ounce of fun to the performance. There are some exceptional performances, most notably Ta'Rea Campell as Deloris, who brings just the right amount of sass, swagger and vocal chops to the role made famous by Whoopi Goldberg.
When Deloris witnesses her boyfriend commit murder, she's placed in witness protection inside a convent, where she must give up the life she knows and pretend to be a nun. Predictable jokes about chastity, modesty and abstinence ensue, but the production takes it up a notch by giving the supporting players well crafted innuendos and barbs to play with. A stand-out includes the elderly nun Sister Mary Lazarus (Diane J Findlay) who delivers a hilarious 'granny rap' straight out of The Wedding Singer.
Also worth noting are the talented ladies who portray Deloris' 'sisters' - each one getting the chance to shine in her own unique way and all of whom blew the roof off the theatre with their vocal abilities. Sister Mary Robert (Lael Van Keuren - direct from Broadway) gets some of the best material, coming out of her shell gradually throughout the show and winning the audience over with divine vocals that seem sent from heaven above.
While Sister Act is funny, upbeat and features a catchy original score by Academy, Grammy and Golden Globe award winner Alan Menken, it never reaches its full potential because the characters are not given the opportunity to truly connect with one another and therefore, the audience. By the time we reach the emotional climax in the second act, the show feels tired and seems to be forcing sentiment down the audiences throat. Deloris tearfully sings that she is within her own ‘Sister Act’ as she tries to choose between lounge singing and the convent, yet it fails to tug at the heartstrings the way it clearly should.
If you accept Sister Act for what it is, a fun, no nonsense trip down memory lane, it is an enjoyable evening out. Impressive choreography, hummable tunes and stunning performances keep it from devolving from adorably kitschy to downright painful. But one can't help but wonder if this show could have soared into the celestial heavens alongside Book of Mormon if it had been allowed to have more heart, soul and wit. In the end, it’s simply good, campy fun. It’s a bit like going to church on Sunday. You’re not sure you want to go, but you leave with the realization that you're glad you did.
When and Where?
The Ed Mirvish Theatre
On now until November 4th, 2012
Tickets range from $35 to $130 and can be purchased in person at the box office, by phone at 416-872-1212 or online at www.mirvish.com
Please note that Sister Act has a limited number of rush seats available in person at the box office 2 hours prior to showtime. Tickets are cash only, 2 per person and are $29.