Hollis Resnik and Ta'Rea Campbell in "Sister Act." Photo: Joan Marcus

'Sister Act' Makes A Joyful Noise

By Martin F. Kohn

Deloris Van Cartier (born Doris Carter), a sassy, brassy, none-too-successful nightclub singer, witnesses a gang murder, runs for her life and makes it to the police station. Needing a safe place to stow her until she can testify, the cops hide Deloris in a convent, disguised as a nun.

There, she is put in charge of the convent's dismal choir with results that could justify "Sister Act" being called "The Miracle Worker" if that title weren't already taken.

Based on the popular 1992 movie, the musical "Sister Act," directed by Broadway luminary Jerry Zaks, strives mightily to please audiences and mostly succeeds. The cast is a high-energy delight. Ta'Rea Campbell's Deloris (Whoopi Goldberg's role in the movie) carries a truckload of attitude and a powerhouse voice. Hollis Resnik, in the Maggie Smith role of Mother Superior, has a gravitas all her own. If Deloris is brass, Mother Superior is steel and their clash resonates throughout the show.

Mother Superior's intense dislike of Deloris seems disturbingly unholy, going well beyond the differences between an old-school nun and a would-be diva. The tension between Deloris and Mother Superior provides the musical with a third major story, the other two being the gangsters' pursuit of Deloris and Deloris' wondrous effect on the choir.

Still, all the main plots and subplots of "Sister Act" aren't substantial enough to justify as many songs as there are (including four reprises), and you feel the show sagging under the weight. The show is set in Philadelphia in the late '70s and the songs, all new, by Alan Menken and Glenn Slater, frequently harken back to the era of disco and Philly soul.

On the plus side, everyone sings well and the show's secret weapon is its choreography by Anthony Van Last. The secret is there aren't any dance numbers per se, but there is a plethora of chorus movement and small-group choreography that conjures the late Cholly Atkins, Motown's house choreographer.

And underlying everything is a sweet and potent message about transformation. Except for the mob boss (played with malevolent consistency by Melvin Abston), everyone changes for better. Deloris learns to think about something other than herself; Mother Superior warms up; a timid nun (played sweetly by Ashley Moniz) discovers her backbone; and the cop (Chester Gregory) who has had a crush on Deloris since high school gains the confidence to declare it.

Maybe the show should be called "The Miracle Worker" after all.


'Sister Act'

Fisher Theatre, 3011 W. Grand Blvd., Detroit. 8 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday; 2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday; and 7:30 p.m. Sunday through May 4. 2 hours, 25 minutes. $40+. 313-872-1000. http://www.broadwayindetroit.com

  • Latest News

Enter To Win

Enter contests to win great prizes like CDs, DVDs, concert tickets and more

Special Section: Automotive
Former Chrysler Executive Talks Workplace Inclusivity

As an openly gay man, Fred Hoffman said, "I really didn't know if there would be an issue." And while he wasn't waving rainbow flags when he was recruited by Chrysler in 1988, he was told being gay wasn't a problem.

View More Automotive
This Week's Issue

Download or view this week's print issue today!