When critiquing, one is supposed to be reserved, to maintain credibility by not gushing and by pointing out the flaws as well as the high points of something. The problem is, I loved Sister Act at The Pantages (July 9-28th in Los Angeles, Calif.).
After all, it's a musical comedy so it has two requirements: good music and fun. Sister Act delivers both in spades. It's no wonder it was nominated for five Tony Awards in 2011 when it burst on to Broadway including Best Musical and Best Score (Alan Menken music and Glenn Slater lyrics). Now, the touring company presented by producers Whoopi Goldberg, Stage Entertainment and Troika Entertainment is bringing that same excitement to Los Angeles (Pantages July 9-28) San Diego (July 30-Aug. 4, Broadway San Diego), Costa Mesa (Segerstrom Center August 6-18) and Seattle (Paramount Theatre Aug. 20-25) and then various venues throughout the country for the rest of the year. (Tour Schedule Here)
I liked it because it's fun, for everyone. Heck, I'm an atheist and I had a ball. Yes, there's dancing and singing nuns, and why wouldn't there be? It's filled with not one but several great performances from the brightest the stage has to offer and the score is filled with numbers genetically engineered to get your hands in the air, your feet stompin' on the ground and loud "Amen!" escaping from your lips. Really, not kidding. And yes, I know it's a Broadway creation of a story made famous by a movie, that many of us already love the story because of the movie (and Whoopi Goldberg's hilarious role in it) and that it was produced with a big budget to be a big spectacle. It's Broadway's equivalent of a Blockbuster Film. But many Blockbuster Films (the original summer Blockbuster Jaws comes to mind) are often brilliant movies. Sister Act hits on the all the right notes to make it good family fun; there's no hard-hitting issues or politics, no scathing exposés on the human experience. There's fun, laughter and great actors and singers having a ball with the material.
It is a vehicle for a star, no doubt, and Ta'Rea Campbell delivers that commanding role as Delores Van Cartier, a Philly disco diva who has witnessed a murder and must go on the lam in a convent. But some universes have room for several stars and this production does as well. Hollis Resniik as Mother Superior pulls every bit of the weight of the play and does so with aplomb. She is the Yang to Campbell's Yin and it is their rivalry and yes, eventual sisterhood, that is the central emotional part of the play.
Of course, the nuns are the thing, and this production has some great ones. Now, I grew up watching the movie series of Where Angels Go, Trouble Follows and such. The late Mary Wickes helped blaze a trail of the wise-cracking nun in film and Diane J. Findley steals every scene as Sister Mary Lazarus. Kathy Najimi's movie role is given new life, and new, well, bubble as Florrie Bagel's Sister Mary Patrick and when Lael Van Keuren's Sister Mary Roberts finally opens up and sings, if there is a heaven, they can hear it. E. Clayton Cornelious as Eddie Souther (Sweaty Eddie) gives a show-stopping performance as the little cop who can and Charles Barksdale as TJ along with Todd A. Horman and Ernie Pruneda form a male trio of "thugs" that end up being as hysterical together as the Three Stooges. Everyone in the cast is great, and for a complete list go here.
Once Van Cartier is in the convent is when the fun (and singing) begins and that is truly when the play shines. Yes, Campbell or Resnik can deliver show-stopping moments alone but it's when they're with the group, with, well, their sisters, that the play soars. It's obvious the cast is having a ball, and that's infectious.
The 11 o'clock song (not really at 11, but that's what it's called) Sister Act by Campbell where Van Cartier realizes what's really important in life as well as the rousing Life I Never Led by Van Deuren gets everyone amped so by the time the finale rolls around, well, it's like being in a Church in the South on Sunday. Amen, Hallelujah and Thank Ya! for the songs.
The cast party was held at The Library at 1717 Vine, a trendy lounge set inside a hotel complete with enclosed patio in between the hotels wings. As the cast arrived it was easy to see that this was a group that was truly enjoying both the tour, and California. Many are from NYC, so the weather here has them very excited.
"When I'm not on stage, I'm going to be at the beach," laughed Van Deuren as we sipped Cosmopolitans made by the handsome bar staff.
Cornelious is loving it, but will be missing Seattle and some of the rest of the tour, but for good reason.
"I've got a part in 'Beautiful' a play about the music of Carole King and we start in San Francisco soon," he told me as we snagged a mini-cupcake from the trays of food being brought through the outdoor patio the perfect temperature thanks to Hollywood's summer. "I had no idea how many incredible songs she has written," he continued, "It's quite amazing."
Campbell and Resnik are still hanging out together, as being the dual leads in a play such as this can be bonding. As we pose for photos she graciously defers to Campbell. "She's the real deal, she is, it's so incredible to be performing with her every night," she told me as we posed for a photo for LAartsonline.com and Cynthia N. Olkie from Fleur de Lis photography.
A night out at the theatre can be costly and money is tight for everyone. So when you go, you want to get the most value. If you're looking to laugh, to sing, to clap your hands and have a joyously good time, spend the money and time and go see Sister Act. Sometimes, great movies can make great plays and this is one of those times.
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SLIDESHOW FROM AFTER PARTY: