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Sister Act

Review by Tulis McCall
(21 Apr 2011)

I don't read the program or the press release before a show for the same reason I left the Catholic Church: I don't like people telling me what I am supposed to think. That is the way I am wired. Anyway, about halfway through Sister Act, as I was admiring the woman playing Mother Superior and thinking, "How will anyone recognize her on the street when she is not wearing her habit?" it hit me. I turned to my chum and whispered - Isn't Mother Superior the woman from Light in the Piazza? Isn't that Victoria Clark? And because we couldn't see the programs we had to wait until the show was over before I discovered I was right!

This is good news for a few reasons. The first being that Victoria Clark is just about the best reason to see any show any time. The second is that, as Mother Superior, Clark is what makes this show tick. The third is that I have agreat eye, if I do say so myself.

Deloris Van Cartier (Patina Miller) has just witnessed her boyfriend Curtis Jackson (Kingsley Leggs), shoot someone. In spite of her assurance that she didn't see anything, Curtis tries to kill her too. Deloris runs to the police for help. The police, in this case, is they guy who used to have a crush on Deloris, and still does, back in school, Sweaty Eddie (Chester Gregory). To protect Deloris he hides her where no one will think to look, a convent attached to Our Lady of the Angels Church (Yipes! What a fantastic set!). Against Mother Superior's better judgment Deloris is admitted as a visiting nun, Sister Mary Clarence. The new nun requires some breaking in, but when she is assigned the task of whipping the pathetic choir into shape, it is all Glory Halleluiah. The congregation returns in its unique way, and all is nearly right with the world, until the nuns are featured on television. There she is spotted by Curtis and the chase is on once again.

Sister Act is a sweet show. It is not great. It is not earth shattering, but by the end, I was won over (as was the stoner two rows in front of me who stood up for the last 10 minutes of the show, despite our yelling at her to sit down). To begin with, Patina Miller (Deloris Van Cartier/Sister Mary Clarence) is charming. She is beautiful, exuberant, enthusiastic and equipped with a fantastic set of pipes. She is so positive, however, that it is difficult to believe she is involved with not only a married man, but a murderer. She has more Pollyanna in her than Gangster Moll. Translation - the first 20 minutes of this show are on the dull side.

But when Deloris meets Mother Superior, the show is kicked up a notch or twenty and stays there.

Ms. Clark is very funny, and dry as a bone. She knows exactly what to do with the few lines she is given and delivers each word - spoken or sung - with precision and clarity. She is, you should pardon the expression, glorious. This Mother Superior is protective of her flock and devoted to her Lord, even when he seems to have taken a time out, and knows a thing or two about sarcasm.

Miller provides the heart, but Clark gives this show soul.

As the pastor Monsignor O'Hara, Fred Applegate is a match for the Mother Superior in every way. Applegate's timing and delivery are spot-on. So, too the featured supporting cast each has a moment to shine, and they do so beautifully. It makes you wish that the story was about them instead of Deloris.

The fact is that the book is flat as Matzo, and the music is pure Disney. In the movie, the nuns took Mary Well's tune, My Guy and turned it into My God; used I Will Follow Him and Shout - all classics from the 50's and 60's. Here we have Spread The Love Around and Take Me To Heaven. Nice try.

But the house does rock and that is due to Patina Miller's sheer force of will. She struts, she shimmies, she gets down with her bad self with so much conviction that you finally surrender. There is nothing hesitant or disingenuous about Ms. Miller. This show should lead her to a platform that matches her many talents.

In the mean time, sit back and enjoy Miller, Clark and their fine compatriots. They make this piece of fluff worth the trip. But watch where you're walking when you leave the theatre because there are busloads of Catholics heading in to see this show and they are beaming so broadly when they exit that they are serious traffic hazards.

(Tulis McCall)

"Tame, innocuous and frankly a little dull."
Charles Isherwood for NY Times

"A blessed event has landed on Broadway. ... a feel-good crowd-pleaser worth celebrating."
Joe Dziemianowicz for NY Daily News

"One of the season's happiest surprises."
Elisabeth Vincentelli for New York Post

"Delivered with exceptional glee and polish."
Jeremy Gerard for Bloomberg

"A ramshackle yet agreeable film comedy with plausibility issues has here become an even more ramshackle and outlandish musical comedy that consistently diminishes its source."
Erik Haagensen for Back Stage

"A lively and extremely funny musical comedy with an infectious score of new disco numbers"
Robert Feldberg for The Record

"It's not the most brilliant musical ever written, but plenty of laughter rocks the rafters."
Michael Sommers for Newsroom Jersey

"Despite some missteps, Sister Act comes together to provide payoff in laughs, emotional uplift and spectacle. "
David Rooney for The Hollywood Reporter

"Glossy, but seems like a worn set of tires repatched too often."
Steven Suskin for Variety

External links to full reviews from popular press...

New York Times - New York Daily News - New York Post - Bloomberg - Back Stage - The Record - Newsroom Jersey - Hollywood Reporter - Variety

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