'Sister Act' not exactly habit-forming
To say that "Sister Act" lacks plot development is probably beside the point. To people who love this show (and, judging from audience reaction at the performance I attended, that will be many), cheerful entertainment is the point.
Make that breathlessly cheerful. Relentlessly cheerful. In this corner, OK, make that mindlessly, bafflingly, springtime-for-Hitler-quality cheerful. Whoopi Goldberg is the hard-driving show's lead producer, but the musical has none of the heart, logic or genuine emotional stakes of her 1992 movie comedy.
What this one has is lots of glitz, original songs instead of jukebox hits and plenty of talent, most conspicuously Patina Miller in a breakthrough Broadway debut. She plays Deloris Van Cartier (Goldberg's screen role), the two-bit disco diva hiding from the mob in a cloistered convent. Miller, a holdover from the earlier London version, has a big, easygoing, vibrato-tinged voice and an insouciance that makes her character's dumbness (she expects a Jacuzzi in the convent . . . really?) almost charming.
Like the rest of director Jerry Zaks' flashy production, Deloris is a cartoon, not a person, which means she bounces back from scary trouble with a bop and a grin. This also means she doesn't even have to work to win over the sheltered nuns and teach them to, uh, boogie.
Clearly, these goofy, jolly nuns were just waiting for someone to put them in sparkly habits, to liberate them from the drudgery of piety and crises in vocal pitch. Except for Mother Superior (the authentically superior Victoria Clark), the women quickly find their harmony, praising "the sweet sensation of extreme self-flagellation" and describing holy wafers as a "moral high colonic."
In their own way, Glenn Slater's lyrics may be as irreverent as anything in "The Book of Mormon." In panting gospel-love to Jesus, nuns wail, "I'll give you all I've got 'cause nothin's as hot as when you groove with me. Ooo. Ah. Ah." Yes, ooo, ah, ah.
Composer Alan Menken has written a nonstop hit parade of happy disco and Barry White-infused soul. But each one is big enough for a finale. Nothing builds to the dramatic climax. The winking monsignor describes people who want to buy the church as "two bachelors who deal in antiques." He says the line three, maybe four times, lest we miss the nuance.
Everyone around me seemed to be having grand time. Wish I were there.
WHAT "Sister Act"
WHERE Broadway Theatre, 1681 Broadway
INFO $50-$125; 212-239-6200; sisteractthemusical.com
BOTTOM LINE Disco nuns with more glitz than credibility