Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Centennial Hall Goes Churchy With "Sister Act"

Posted By on Wed, Oct 9, 2013 at 4:00 PM

The traveling cast of Sister Act

Somebody say Amen!

And may blessings abound for Broadway in Tucson, which has opened its season with an exuberant touring production of the hit Sister Act.

The show first rocked out on the Broadway stage in 2011, picked up five Tony nominations and has been beckoning the faithful ever sense.

This is a high caliber professional production, in scale and in talent. And we are thankful that the huge cast delivers plenty of heart and soul, because, Lord knows, the story is not what we come to see.

In the way it seems to work these days, if there’s a successful blueprint in one medium, then you might as well exploit the hell—uh, heck—out of it.

So in 1992, when the big Whoopi G. grabbed movie audiences with a spunky story about an odd marriage between a would-be sexy singer (and yes, that was a stretch) who needs a place to hide, and a group of Sisters who seem ripe to tap into their inner showgirls to give life to a crumbling church, you just knew it was a matter of time before some producer with dollar signs in their eyes (in this case it was Whoopi herself) would say, hey, this would make a great piece of musical theater. And, lo, they were right!

So put aside all that can’t-anyone-figure-out-how-to-do-something-truly-original cynicism and admit that the right incubator might hatch a blessed event.

And so it has come to pass.

Actually, the theater version is by far the more entertaining. The lyrics by Glenn Slatter and music by Alan Menken provide an opportunity for some kick-ass choral numbers by a gaggle of determined women. (I guess I should say “rousing” in respect of the subject, but “kick-ass” is really more truthful, and that must count for something.)

Ta’Rea Campbell wows as the singer Deloris van Cartier, and with her powerful presence—which manages to be both sweet and sassy at the same time—and soaring voice, she gives a wakeup call to the plodding sisters, even though she causes the Mother Superior (Hollis Resnick) to have a (very melodic) crisis of faith.

In the meantime, bad dude Curtis (Melvin Abston) seeks to track down the now Sister Mary Clarence to kill her for witnessing a most un-Christlike act. His three minions are sort of an inner-city Three Stooges with a dusting of thug powder, who manage to provide some laughs. Meanwhile, fumbling police officer Sweaty Eddie (Chester Gregory) who’s had a crush on Delores since high school, dreams he could be “that guy,” and we have the delightful opportunity to see his fantasy come to life in a number (“I Can Be That Guy,”) in which all doubts are dispelled that he has “that guy” in him.

Klara Zieglerova’s sets are fine; in particular the sanctuary is splendid as the sisters rock it out under the watchful eye of Saint Mary, who is obviously not averse to getting a makeover for the Pope’s visit. Lez Brotherston’s costumes are—wait for it—heavenly, and at their boldest are just one sequin away from bursting into flames.

The show seems a little long; some of the numbers are a bit gratuitous, and actually highlight the story’s weakness. And, please, there’s no need for the theological theorizing as the show draws to a close. The message is the medium here: when music fills our hearts, our hearts overflow with the kind of joy which makes love and grace possible and the distance between us insignificant.

Sing on, sisters!

Sister Act

Presented by Broadway in Tucson

7:30 p.m. today, Oct. 9 and Thursday, Oct. 10; 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 11; 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 12; 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 13

$29-$75

Centennial Hall on the University of Arizona Campus
1020 E. University Blvd.

Two and one-half hours with intermission

800-745-3000; www.broadwayintucson.com

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