I like fun. I like funny things. I like light, funny things. I like the movie Sister Act, and the last time I saw it was about 15 years ago. I wanted to get that out of the way ahead of what I’m about to say. Overall, it seems like someone gently placed the script and music for Sister Act in a bowl, plugged in the hand mixer and whipped them into the fluffiest, most digestible Musical Lite ® possible could without breaking down the play at a molecular level. What I’m trying to say is that I’m pretty sure Cats was deeper than this production.
Sister Act has a lot of money at its disposal. Beautiful costumes, a full orchestra, a big cast and excellent sets were hallmarks of the production. A ten foot tall disco ball statue of Mary makes an appearance and I cannot knock something amazing like that. The audience was repeatedly blinded during one of the final scenes by nuns dancing in sync while wearing full on glitter habits and gowns. Again, I can’t knock this. The thing was pretty and well orchestrated. Where does this money come from, you ask, Who produced this? Among three others, why, Whoopi Goldberg herself produced the play. This, I can knock. Did she see the motion picture version?
Deloris, main character and singer extraordinaire, is brash, loud and self-promoting. Most wannabe celebrities (see also: the working population of Washington, DC) can relate to her. Someone canned Deloris’ character development to shorthand cliches, presumably as a way to quickly launch you into the extremely complex plot of this play. We first see Deloris in a nightclub where she sings a forgettable song and whines to her nightclub owner/boyfriend about not being able to headline there yet. She witnesses said boyfriend murder someone and runs to the police, who place her in a convent where she must fit in. HIJINKS ENSUE. Play over. Kidding, let’s keep reviewing.
Once Deloris directs her energies toward an otherwise unsuccessful choir of nuns in order to save this church from financial ruin, she’s an unstoppable force of enthusiasm. Deloris is charming, but Mother Superior will have none of it, and does not relent her pious, preachy, horrified-old-lady-ness she has going on. You’d be mistaken to think somewhere before the last twenty minutes of Act 2, the scriptwriter may have wanted to show some unwilling appreciation of Deloris on the part of Mother Superior. Instead we must endure repetitive lecturing and a couple mournful songs from an elderly nun who doesn’t want anything to change. You would also be mistaken to think this production takes a break from silliness to ground it in reality, provoking a topic of deep conflict would arise between these two characters, such as racism, ageism, traditional-vs-modern. Instead, it’s a play about someone terribly afraid of everything versus someone who’s not afraid of anything. This plays out in smaller ways between Deloris and each of the nuns. And that two-dimensional dynamic knocks around awkwardly until the glorious end. Even the actors seemed kind of bored by it.
I must applaud the scene that stole the evening, markedly funnier and creative than anything else in the entire two or three hour production: “Lady in the Long Black Dress,” a throwaway song about the owner/boyfriend’s goons brainstorming ways of seducing the nuns so they can capture Deloris. There was a lot of genuinely giggle-worthy, campy eyebrow raising and body posturing. I’m sorry we didn’t see more of these three characters throughout.
So, maybe you’ve got your heart set on seeing Sister Act. Maybe you like cheap laughs, bad puns and tired musical movements. The actors move around this terrible script as well as they can, and they’re good singers. It’s not the absolute worst way to spend your night. But I wouldn’t go see it again.