Anyone who’s old enough to remember the film “The Singing Nun” will likely be amazed at just how far the premise behind that 1966 title has progressed after seeing the hit musical “Sister Act.”
The national touring production, being presented locally by Celebrity Attractions, is a relentlessly cheerful musical that pits Mother Superior against Deloris Van Cartier, a lounge singer who is given protective custody in a Philadelphia convent.
Fans of the screenplay on which this musical is based will find much to admire in “Sister Act,” despite the fact that the cast of this long-running tour spends much of the evening operating in overdrive.
No longer under the protective eye of its director, the company looks for new ways to keep the production fresh. This joke deserves a bigger laugh, so let’s underscore the punch line. Or, let’s bump up the volume here for a bigger ovation. Despite taking a hard-sell approach, the cast is uniformly strong.
Jeremy Gaston, Chris Chatman and Charles Barksdale function as an ethnically diverse Greek chorus that both comments on and participates in the action. They milk every ounce of humor out of their featured number, the “Lady in the Long Black Dress.”
Richard Pruitt relishes his role as Monsignor O’Hara, the priest who credits Mother Superior with re-invigorating the parish. Chester Gregory turns on the charm as Eddie Souther, the cop who has a not-so-secret crush on the singer he stashes in the convent. Melvin Abston is persuasive as Curtis Jackson, the thug that Deloris both loves and fears.
At the opening night performance, Jessica Sheridan stepped in for an ailing Hollis Resnik as Mother Superior. Each time Deloris’ alter ego Sister Mary Clarence created a new disruption in the convent, Sheridan’s Mother Superior gently brought us back to reality with her calming presence.
The immensely talented Ta’Rea Campbell makes a fine Deloris, the worldly singer whose efforts to pass as a nun provide “Sister Act” with much of its outrageous humor. Brash, sassy and opinionated, Campbell’s Mary Clarence nevertheless exerts a strong influence over her fellow nuns and, in the process, slowly chips away at Mother Superior’s unyielding stance to reveal a woman of considerable compassion.
Alan Menken and Glenn Slater created a disco-inspired score to give “Sister Act” a 1970s period feel. And while “Take Me to Heaven” and “Raise Your Voice” deserve their showstopping status, it’s the show’s quieter moments, most notably “Here Within These Walls” and the title number, that make the strongest impression.
If “Sister Act” had aspirations of becoming something lofty or profound, it wouldn’t have a prayer, to paraphrase one of the show’s lyrics. But taken at face value, this irreverent spoof of Catholicism and its traditions is a guilty pleasure that won’t have you seeking confession.
— Rick Rogers, for The Oklahoman
•When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday.
•Where: Civic Center Music Hall, 201 N Walker.
•Information: (800) 869-1451 or www.celebrityattractions.com.