Starring Ta’rea Campbell, Hollis Resnik. Music by Alan Menken. Lyrics by Glenn Slater. Book by Cheri and Bill Steinkellner. Directed by Jerry Zaks. Ed Mirvish Theatre, to Nov. 4.
If you believe that seeing a choir of Catholic nuns get down and funky is hilarious, then your faith will truly be tested by Sister Act. This glitzy, Communion wafer–thin musical—making its first post-Broadway tour stop at the Ed Mirvish Theatre—not only gives us brides of Christ cavorting like wimple-clad Solid Gold dancers, but also boasts a bishop doing a sexy Barry White impression and a church transformed into a stained-glass disco palace. Based on the 1992 Whoopi Goldberg movie comedy, which seems subtle by comparison, Sister Act flogs its one-joke premise with all the vigour of a pain-happy flagellant.
The plot is a mash-up between Some Like It Hot and The Sound of Music. Deloris Van Cartier (Ta’rea Campbell), a sassy Donna Summer wannabe in late-1970s Philadelphia, winds up on the run from gangsters and has to hide out in a convent. There, after some fish-out-of-water gags—and despite the resistance of a sourpuss Mother Superior (Hollis Resnik)—she finds her true calling as director of the choir. She reshapes its timid choristers into high-stepping Bible belters, and in the process, turns their failing South Philly church into a soul sensation.
It’s meant to be good, clean fun—and certainly the talent is first-rate—but the dialogue is so cutesy, and every musical number so ingratiating, that it actually becomes offensive. The slick staging is by Broadway legend Jerry Zaks, who got his start in the ’80s directing Christopher Durang’s great satire Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You. Who knew Zaks would end up peddling the very kind of Disneyfied Catholicism that Durang’s play was intended to counteract?