Sister Act the Musical: One Heavenly Review

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Patina Miller really delivered a performance I am in awe of, especially because I was reminded of Goldberg’s character in the movie. It really made me appreciate Whoopi’s dynamism in her ability to transform this convent from sickly groaning singers to beautifully energized worshippers of God.

[Theater]

I finally got to see Sister Act at the Broadway Theatre yesterday.


Dreams of Stardom
If I can use a word to describe Sister Act, I would say: Glitter. Glitter. Glitter. Actress Patina Miller plays Delores Van Cartier, or Sister Mary Clarence – the role initially played by Whoopi Goldberg in the 1992 film. This is her first Broadway musical and it is a debut of which she should be proud.

She embodied the character of the unremitting, struggling singer who knows she is a diva waiting for her turn to shine. The opening number, “Take Me to Heaven”, was a disco masterpiece that got stuck in my head, as any true pop song can. “Take me to Heaven/ Take me to Paradise”, sang Delores and her back up dancers in attempts to get a deal from the cruel character of Curtis Jackson, played by Kingsley Leggs.

How Curtis could turn down a singer with the funk, flavor and knee high boots of Bette Davis is the question of the musical. The musical dives right into the story; Delores witnesses the murder of an informant by Curtis and must now protect herself from being next on his list. It all plays out smoothly.

Lez Botherston’s costumes realized the fun and glamour of living in the 70s. The overpowering sparkle, color and spectacle of the outfits throughout the musical reflected the wonderful lighting designs created by Natasha Katz beautifully. The disco ball costumes were a vivid and symbolic contrast to the black and white nun habits that Mother Superior, played by Carolee Carmello, and her sisters wore with demureness and their obedience to the spiritual marriage to God that every Sister takes.

Music and lyrics created by Alan Menken and Glenn Slater mostly expressed an element of a Donna Summer disco night in almost every song. “The Life I Led” sung by Sister Mary Roberts, played by actress Marla Mindelle was a heart-pumping poetic ballad that differed from the 70s club music, empowering the musical with variety. The song showcased her singing ability. She carried the song emotionally to a place very reminiscent of the character in the movie. Other songs sung by the nuns in the convent and Mother Superior broke free of restriction although carried by women whose roles were to always remain respectful of God, in mind and body.

What I appreciated most about the show was the several opportunities that the supporting characters were given to boast their individual character and why they were chosen to be in the show. The adaptors of this version of Sister Act took every character into account and believed that every actor should be the best, and treat their own characters as the star even if they were not the lead. The three thugs had several numbers for the audience to focus on and emerge from their roles as background characters. Curtis’ cousin TJ, played by Demond Green, shed his dopey persona to deliver a performance that was sensual and soulful.

The supporting characters were always present, always giving their all. Sarah Bolt’s version of Sister Mary Patrick was spot on. Her bubbly and vivacious character shone and was a great comedic relief, as was Chester Gregory as “Sweaty Eddie”; Eddie Souther is the underdog police man who always loved Delores and needs to claim his role as a strong man in order to impress her. He did this with such humor and wit, that he could be considered one of the musical’s scene stealers.

I did enjoy Kingsley Leggs’ portrayal of Curtis Jackson, but did not find his physical performance as compelling. Vocally he had the strength of a true thug, but his body was too stiff for a show filled with disco songs. I accept the argument that the Curtis character is not a disco king, but a cold-blooded killer. Why should he embody the rhythm of the musical? I counter with the response that it was too noticeable how reserved his movement was in parts of the musical. The oldest Sister had more movement than him and he is a powerful man in his prime. There is no excuse.

Patina Miller Gets Down
The movement of the sets was constant and seamless. It was easy to focus on the characters even with the many changes that occurred on stage. This set designer maximized every inch of the stage using moving walkways, separation of the stage into two levels using on-stage balconies and stained glass walls that rose high into the air to surround the blinged-out dancers and Mary Magdalene statue.

One issue in the play was the difficulty in hearing the other performers when the entire group was on the stage and attempting to sing their lines in a round. The musical Rent is a great example of how a round should come together. There is a great possibility that the vocal strength of the other singers collided with each other, creating a dissonance of voices and a lost chance to hear lyrics. This is a problem especially when it occurs in the closing number “Spread the Love Around”.

Patina Miller really delivered a performance I am in awe of, especially because I was reminded of Goldberg’s character in the movie. It really made me appreciate Whoopi’s dynamism in her ability to transform this convent from sickly groaning singers to beautifully energized worshippers of God.

Whoopi put her whole body into the movie’s Van Cartier character and although the musical featured all new songs and Miller’s performance was more energetic and reminiscent of Tina Turner or Beyonce; she captured the attitude and essence of Goldberg’s memorable performance. The musical was different from the movie, but not in a way that disturbed you by its attempts to undo its origins. It pays homage to the movie and adds dimensions to the characters we might have not noticed the first time around.

The musical version of Sister Act is a true collaboration by artists, planners and creative visionaries that put their all into this adaption. They should be proud of it.

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