Los Angeles Theater Review: SISTER ACT (Musical Theatre West in Long Beach)

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by Tony Frankel on April 10, 2016

in Theater-Los Angeles

NUNBEARABLE

Deloris, a  pushy, smart-alecky, malopropism-spouting black woman, is disguised as a nun as she awaits a court date to squeal against her gangster boyfriend. Her background as a nightclub entertainer makes her perfect to convert a convent of silly oddball sisters into a kick-ass choir — one which turns a cash-strapped church into a born-again bonanza.

The company in Musical Theatre West's Production of Sister Act Harper Miles as Tina, Constance Jewell Lopez as Deloris van Cartier, and Larece Hawkins as Michelle in Musical Theatre West's Production of Sister Act.

This is a fantastic story, but if there’s one thing I hate, it’s to see a movie adapted for the stage for no apparent reason. Instead of transferring the heart and sassiness that made the 1992 Sister Act such a commendable film, the makers of the Broadway musical, now playing at Musical Theatre West (a choice no doubt to please subscribers), decided to go for tactless and commercial. Clearly, there are patrons who somehow find this parade of nuns kicking it up as if they had a side job as Rockettes to be a cute little comic strip of razzmatazz numbers. (And like Maria in The Sound of Music, Deloris teaches these celibates to sell it in one number.) God knows America has her love affair with singing, wisecracking nuns — whether they fly or dance — but I was positively enervated by Sister Act, The Musical.

John Wells as TJ, Elijah Reyes as Pablo, Gerry McIntire as Curtis Jackson, and Spencer Rowe as Joey in Musical Theatre West's Production of Sister Act

The company in Musical Theatre West's Production of Sister Act.

The casting by director Michael Matthews is phenomenal and, naturally, everybody sounds great; there’s no problem with Daniel Smith’s choreography, which excels when it’s character-driven; David Lamoureux, conducting from the drums, gives us a tight, tight, tight orchestra as great as any Broadway show; and all the individual performances are good: the comic timing of brilliant Broadway vet Mary Gordon Murray as Mother Superior is impeccable; Cindy Sciacca nails the life force of the wide-eyed, excitable Sister Mary Patrick (the Kathy Najimy role); Gerry McIntyre can’t help but dominate the stage, making the murderous Curtis a likable villain; and while lacking a bit in the comic chops department, Constance Jewell Lopez is eminently fun, flashy, and fetching as Deloris.

Constance Jewell Lopez as Deloris van Cartier and the company in Musical Theatre West's Production of Sister Act. Anthonu Manough as EddieSouther and the Company of Musical Theatre West's Production of Sister Act.

The goofy eye-rolling humor (Deloris is self-described as going “incognegro”) offers some mildly enjoyable moments, but it pales in comparison to the movie from which it drew its inspiration, and grows positively wearying in the second act. The picture’s endearing integrity is lost somewhere amid this musical’s unsubtle pandering and its reliance on ’70s’ nostalgia (the locale has been changed from the film’s 1992 Reno to 1978 Philadelphia). Bookwriters Cheri and Bill Steinkellner (with additional material by Douglas Carter Beane) throw in far too much glitter, make stupid jokes (the repeated reference to a character as “Sweaty Eddie” is jaw-clenchingly bargain-basement dialogue), and inject the word “fabulous” often enough to alienate the very type of viewer they are going out of their way to engage.

Constance Jewell Lopez as Deloris van Cartier and Mary Gordon Murray as Mother Superior in Musical Theatre West's Production of Sister Act. The company of Musical Theatre West's Production of Sister Act.

Disconcertingly overused wordsmith Glenn Slater may offer occasionally witty lyrics, but they’re cheap and barely serviceable, and Alan Menkin’s derivative music is almost uniformly forgettable, save the rousing chorus number “Raise Your Voice,” around which the entire musical is framed, and may be the only thing which any of us remember once the nun-dust settles. Moreover, every time a number starts it actually deflates the story, the exact opposite of a song’s purpose in a musical comedy. It’s astounding how whiplashingly quick this falderal goes from diverting to a cringe-worthy mess.

The company in Musical Theatre West's Production of Sister Act.

Constance Jewell Lopez as Deloris van Cartier and Anthony Manough as Eddie Souther in Musical Theatre West's Production of Sister Act.

Even the normally amazing Mr. Matthews (3-D’s Funny Girl, Celebration’s The Color Purple) couldn’t save this one (the staging of a 3-way confessional fell especially flat). With all of the tremendous American musicals that could be revived — including those with wonky books but great music like Girl Crazy — Musical Theatre West wastes both its vast resources and Mr. Matthew’s talent on this crap, a revised adaptation of the 2006 review-proof version which began at the Pasadena Playhouse.

Constance Jewell Lopez as Deloris van Cartier and the company in Musical Theatre West's Production of Sister Act. The company in Musical Theatre West's Production of Sister Act.

If you can forgive Whoopi Goldberg for being the producing force behind this mess in the first place, then do yourself a favor: Dust off your old VHS copy of Sister Act, watch, and forget this musical ever happened.

The company in Musical Theatre West's Production of Sister Act. Elijah Reyes as Pablo, Spencer Rowe as Joey, and John Wells as TJ in Musical Theatre West's Production of Sister Act.

photos by Caught in the Moment Photography

Sister Act
Musical Theatre West
Richard and Karen Carpenter Performing Arts Center in Long Beach
ends on April 24, 2016
for tickets, call 562.856.1999 or visit Musical

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

John T April 11, 2016 at 12:07 pm

It needs to be said that the movie this is based on wasn’t so wonderful to begin with. Sorry, People Who Loved It; it may have been a crowd pleaser, and that’s fine if you’re part of the crowd that it pleased, but it was formulaic to the letter, tired, and uninspired.

Glad to see that Douglas Carter Beane is continuing the new-ish tradition of noteworthy playwrights getting hired to churn out crap books for musicals.

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