Nobody would ever accuse Sister Act, the 1992 comedy starring Whoopi Goldberg, of being anything other than a light-hearted comedy. It features and highlights the absurdity of a lounge singer who's forced into hiding inside a convent after witnessing a murder. Staging that story for a Broadway show might seem like a strange task, especially when Sister Act doesn't have original music or lend itself very naturally to the creation of it. So how does it work so well?
The show plays up the humor of the protagonist's (Patina Miller's Delores van Cartier) fish-out-of-water situation for huge laughs throughout the show. The nuns' collective acceptance of Delores' strange and almost non-existent back-story without any suspicion of misdeed demonstrates not only the sisters' uncanny trust in humankind, but also serves as a wink and a nod from the producers that this story requires a fair share of faith from the audience. We recognize something is amiss, but it's perplexing, yet equally possible, that these women would immediately bring in Delores as their own.
Along these lines, it's no wonder how quickly Delores rises to head of the music class and has her sisters singing like they never have before. In the film version, there are more severe growing pains, adjustments, and indecision than the musical version showcases. The Broadway version, though, doesn't entirely skip those conversations and moments of worry. Instead, those feelings come out through original songs that reflect private insecurities or fears that aren't necessarily ever raised as public statements of opposition for Delores' change-ups. The nuns are on board with Delores from the get-go.
This show doesn't take itself too seriously at all. There are a couple of songs that bring out the inner dancer in some of the show's nastier characters, and some chase scenes appear to be less dangerous than entertaining. In the movie, there's never any doubt that Delores would prevail against her adversaries, yet there is still some semblance of suspense about how she'll escape. On Broadway, the bad guys are so bumbling and inept that they are cartoonish. But that works brilliantly here since the tone for the show has been set from the beginning as a playground for physical comedy.
When it comes to some Broadway productions, the audience seeks some nostalgia that will take them back to another time. Those shows, with the right following, can thrive. In the case of Sister Act,, though, this Broadway musical goes in a new, fresh, and innovative direction, taking liberties with characters, plot, and music to carve out something unfamiliar within a familiar story. It succeeds thanks largely to its recognition that despite any big-stage hoopla, at the core of Sister Act is not a story worth reconsidering or analyzing, but rather something worth experiencing with unbridled joy and a whole lot of excitement. It'll have you jumping out of your pews.
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