Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Theater Review: Sister Act -- The Bushnell

The cast. Photo: Joan Marcus
Sisterhood Overcomes Evil in Heavenly Comedy
By Lauren Yarger
Sister Act, one of the more successful efforts to convert a blockbuster film to the stage is rocking the rafters over at the Bushnell with a tour stop this week.

Ta’rea Campbell stars as nightclub singer Deloris Van Cartier, the role made famous in the film by Whoopi Goldberg (who is a producer on the show). When Deloris sees her lover, gangster Curtis Jackson (Kingsley Leggs, who originated the role on Broadway), murder a snitch she’s marked for execution and seeks help from the Philadelphia Police. She’s taken into protection by shy, former high school classmate and cop “Sweaty” Eddie Souther, who still harbors a crush for the flamboyant Deloris.

He hides her at the Queen of Angels Church, disguised as a nun, to await Curtis’ murder trial at which she’ll be the star witness. Mother Superior (Hollis Resnik) isn’t happy with hosting the foul-mouthed singer with her sheltered sisters, but agrees when Monsignor O’Hara (Richard Pruitt) reminds her that a donation given by the police will help the financially struggling church which is in danger of being sold off by the diocese. 

Deloris trades cigarettes, cheese-steak sandwiches and her glittery blouse over thigh-length boots and blue fur coat for abstinence, mutton and a “penguin suit.” (Lez Brotherston designs the costumes). Even still, the nuns find their new sister from a “more progressive order” glamorous and exciting and want to be more like her. Mother Superior sticks Deloris where she thinks she won’t be able to get into any trouble: the Queen of Angels Choir, which sounds more like a group of singers from hell (the nuns singing poorly, directed by Jerry Zaks, is really funny).

Soon Deloris is charming the blunt-speaking choir director, Mary Lazarus (Diane J. Findlay), and transforms the foul-sounding group into decent singers. Deloris helps postulant Mary Robert (Lael Van Keuren ) find her voice and suddenly, overly bubbly Mary Patrick (a funny Florrie Bagel) isn’t the only one excited about being a nun. 

The group is a hit, to the utter disbelief and irritation of Mother Superior, and starts drawing crowds to the church to hear their foot-stomping, hand-clapping brand of inspirational music. The singing nuns also draw the attention of the press, especially when the Pope decides to visit. The publicity leads Curtis and his henchmen, TJ, Joey and Pablo (Charles Barksdale, Todd A. Horman and Ernie Pruneda) right to Deloris and her sisters. (The number where TJ, Joey and Pablo sing about how they will be able to gain access to the convent because of their prowess with women is a hoot).

A fast-paced, humorous book by Cheri and Bill Steinkellner with additional material by Douglas Carter Beane combines with catchy music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Glenn Slater to create an entertaining tale. All of the main elements from the movie are there and play out in front of gothic-inspired sets with a huge statue of Mary designed by Klara Zieglerova. Anthony Van Laast’s choreography adds to the laughs.

All of the vocals are good, especially Cornelious, whose voice is dreamy, and Van Keuren, who sang the role on Broadway, and who belts right up to heaven. They are backed by an orchestra directed and conducted by Brent-Alan Huffman. This one would be a sin to miss.

Sister Act runs through April 21 at the Bushnell, 166 Capitol Ave., Hartford. Performances are Wednesday, Thursday at 7:30 pm; Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 2 and 8 pm; Sunday 1 and 6 pm. Tickets $20-$92. (860) 987-6000; www.bushnell.org. (Check the Bushnell site for updates about construction on Capitol Avenue).

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)

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