Review: SISTER ACT (San Diego Musical Theatre)

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by Milo Shapiro on May 4, 2019

in Theater-Los Angeles,Theater-Regional


Don’t you just hate it when your boyfriend turns out to be a mobster and murders someone right in front of you, forcing you to flee and hide — all when your Disco Diva career is ready to take off? Well, that’s what happens to Deloris Van Cartier in the Boogie-Oogie-Oogie days of 1978, brought to vivid life by Peter Herman (hair design) and Janet Pitcher (costumes), who let their imaginations run wild digging up every fabulous stereotype imaginable.

As with the hit 1992 film, Sister Act The Musical has Deloris (Miriam Dance) rushing to the police station where Officer Eddie Souther (Jeremy Whatley) — who coincidentally remembers Deloris from high school — convinces the local Monsignor (Jim Chovick) and Mother Superior (Sandy Campbell) to hide this edgy street girl among the quiet, cloistered nuns in their convent. The comedy here arises from the malapropism-spouting, fish-out-of-water Deloris and the sisters who just think she’s from “a more progressive order.” Within her struggles to fit in, Deloris quickly discovers one place she can actually be of use: the nuns’ choir, which is so disastrous that it drives parishioners away.

There are two types of songs by Alan Menken (music) and Glenn Slater (lyrics): the conventional “I have to sing about my feelings” format and, more grandly, song-and-dance routines that the choir learns from Deloris. For the latter, the praiseworthy choreographer Luke Harvey Jacobs creates intricate dances for a huge amount of performers on the not-so-huge Horton Grand stage.

Bill and Cheri Steinkellner’s book plays up the role of the Mother Superior far more than the movie. In fact, other than the opening scenes, we see about as much of Mother Superior as we do of Deloris. Ms. Campbell does not disappoint. Her first song, “Here Within These Walls,” starts out rather talky, leading to the impression that she might not be up for the singing role. This illusion is quickly shattered as she shows off the same singing chops as Ms. Dance (who raises the roof), as well as nailing the Mother’s feisty behavior.

Nearly stopping the show, though, is Sarah Errington as shy Sister Mary Robert, who comes out of her shell in a big way. Even lesser characters Eddie and mobster Curtis (Berto Fernandez) get to show off powerful voices and comedic timing — indeed, a costuming coup for Eddie gets one of the biggest laughs of the night.

Under Larry Raben’s direction, Ms. Dance’s take is less bitter than Whoopi Goldberg. Deloris is still earthy and mischievous, but more lovable. The downside here is that the decreased dialogue in the musical robs it of some humor. There isn’t much more San Diego Musical Theatre could have done, but the book simply isn’t as lively as the film script. Still, SDMT’s clever musical numbers make the trip to the Gaslamp Quarter a worthy one.

photos courtesy of SDMT

Sister Act
San Diego Musical Theatre
Horton Grand Theatre, 444 Fourth Ave
Wed & Thurs at 7:30; Fri & Sat 8; Sun at 2
ends on May 26, 2019
for tickets, call 858.560.5740 or visit SDMT

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