Sister Act Is Rejoiced At Segerstrom Center for the Arts

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The ‘Sister Act’ on-stage adaptation of the 1992 film of the same name has been praised for years.  It’s no wonder why this musical is celebrated with such enthusiasm.  The musical began 2006 at the Pasadena Playhouse, had a stint in London’s West End in 2009, and then underwent a revision before coming to Broadway and national tours in 2011.

‘Sister Act – A Divine Musical Comedy’ is just that; simply divine yet wildly funny. After several revisions, sprucing up and fine tuning, director and four-time Tony Award winner Jerry Zaks (Guys and Dolls, A Funny Thing,…Forum, Smokey Joe’s Café) does a sensational job adapting this film to stage making this musical build momentum and bring happiness to its audience members.

I actually don’t recall ever seeing as many people leave the theatre with such big smiles on their faces as I did with “Sister Act”.

The story follows disco diva Deloris Van Cartier played by Ta’Rea Campbell (The Book of Mormon, The Lion King) who just witnessed her boyfriend Curtis Jackson commit murder.  Deloris flees the scene and escapes to the police who places her under protection at the last place Curtis would ever expect, a convent. Being the last place Deloris would ever want to spend her time, she is disguised as a nun and quickly becomes at odd ends with a prudish ultra-conservative Mother Superior.

It’s when Deloris is forced to help the church’s choir of nuns that she finds faith with her new found sisterhood where these corky tone-deaf sisters seek her help to raise their voices in attempt to get more butts in those pews.  As Deloris continues to hide, she seems to be drawing more attention to herself with the aid of blinged out robes and flashy new setlists for the choir keeping herself not-so-hidden after all.

Multi-Academy, Grammy and Golden Globe Award-winning composer Alan Menken (Little Shop of Horrors, Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid and Enchanted) and lyricist Glenn Slater (The Little Mermaid) have created such incredible miracles with the music that it’s challenging not to jump out of your seat to rejoice after each big number.

The start of the show actually takes a moment to take off as we start in the club owned by Deloris’s boyfriend.  The song feels weak, however helps the progression of songs as the musical continues.  Ta’Rea Cambell took me a few numbers to warm-up to, but her talents are revealed as we continue into her growth as a leader to this group of nuns.  It is quickly saved by an outrages song of love confessing by a cop attempting to protect Deloris, childishly nicknamed Sweaty Eddie played by E. Clayton Cornelious.  This entertaining first act song features some surprises that quickly gets the ball rolling.

The musical builds momentum when we get to that climatic moment of the nuns changing their tone from an out-of-tune choir to soulful power singers. “Raise Your Voice” is by far one of if not the BEST scene/song of the show just for its pure power.

It’s the ensemble of nuns that help ‘Sister Act’ shine. There are so many great characters in the bunch that I cannot write about them all, but it’s Florrie Bagel as overly excitable Mary Patrick and Lael Van Keuren as the shy Mary Robert that stand out from the rest.  Their portrayal closely resembles those from the motion picture that helps capture the great moments we remember from the film.  Florrie Bagel has impeccable timing and is wickedly funny.  Lael Van Keuren is perfect casting for the quiet one that just hasn’t found her voice yet.  The elderly nuns also bring spunk when you least expect it.

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There are so many great moments throughout this musical where I found my cheeks hurting from having such a huge smile.  Unfortunately, Curtis’s character of the murdering boyfriend just falls flat.  It is clear that his role is meant to be played a bit subdued, but it comes across awkward and uninspired. I kept looking for him to leap out with movement yet instead he remained frigid and cold almost as if he was just reciting memorized lines.  This wasn’t enough to really take away from the show from being something grand though.

In fact, his solo song “When I Find My Baby” is still hilarious with his hence men singing backup as if they were his vocal muses. What comes later in Act II is true hilarity when the hence men sing a somewhat controversial love song about wooing the nuns entitled “Lady in the Long Black Dress”. I wished I could have hit a replay button after it ended.

The show moves well once it does finally picking up half-way through Act I.  The crowd laughed its way through Act II with the help of surprises and numerous costume changes, which are more outlandish after the next.  ‘Sister Act’ remains light-hearted throughout and never becomes too dark or serious allowing for the show to be filled with comedy and many 70’s inspired upbeat songs.

The set design by Klara Zieglerova is relatively simplistic, but works. Many backdrops just include a large rectangular wall that is dressed differently from scene to scene.  It’s the dressing up to bring glitz to the convent that works really well. There is nothing better than a decked out giant statue of the Mary Queen.

‘Sister Act” is truly about the friendships Deloris makes and her growth in herself. It also gets a tad touchy for a moment as we learn that all of this has led her toward great friendships whether it was an act from God, great people, or both.  It’s a story that leaves you feeling strong and happy about life. I couldn’t ask for any more from any other show.

Sister Act is now playing at Segerstrom Center for the Arts – Segerstrom Hall

August 6 – 18, 2013
There will be a one Thursday matinee at 2p.m. on August 1th and no evening (6:30pm) performance on August 18th.
Tuesday – Friday at 7:30 p.m.
Saturday at 2 and 7:30 p.m.
Sunday at 1 and 6:30 p.m.

The 2 p.m. performance on Saturday, August 17th will include audio description, open captioning and sign-language interpretation.

Tickets start at $20

For more information visit scfta.org

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Joel Covey
Joel has been writing for SoCalThrills for the past decade covering entertainment, events, and theater since joining the site. He is a CSUF alum, studying within the Communication and Radio / TV / Film colleges.