BY MICHAEL SOMMERS
Regarding the buffet of new Broadway tuners concocted from recent movies: If “Priscilla Queen of the Desert” is too hot and “Catch Me If You Can” is too cold for the taste of middle-of-the-musical-road consumers, then “Sister Act” is juuuuuust right.
Opening on Wednesday at the Broadway Theater, “Sister Act” dishes out a crowd-pleasing combo of enjoyable songs, energetic storytelling and bright visuals, all of it stirred up by a lively congregation of performers. It’s not the most brilliant musical ever written, but plenty of laughter rocks the rafters.
Based on the 1992 film that starred Whoopi Goldberg (who happens to be the show’s lead producer), the familiar story concerns Deloris, a wanna-be disco singer who witnesses a murder and is stashed by the cops in a convent until trial. Disguised as a nun, Deloris clashes with a disapproving Mother Superior while whipping the convent’s dismal choir into a powerhouse group that soon brings national attention – and the killers – to their cloister.
Situating their funny script in late 1970s Philadelphia, writers Cheri and Bill Steinkellner give composer Alan Menken and lyricist Glenn Slater a super time and place to forge an exuberant score echoing the flavorful sounds of disco, Motown, soul, gospel and other pop modes of those times. Their 14 songs are warmly melodious and often catchy in their varied rhythms. Sly parodies of typical Bee Gees and Barry White-style numbers are especially droll and also work very well in the dramatic context of the musical.
Not so much a foxy lady as a frisky one, a radiant Patina Miller brings a sunny nature and a great big voice to the role of sassy Deloris. Victoria Clark’s Mother Superior is extremely dry in her manner and acute in her comic delivery. Marla Mindelle’s timid novice, Audrie Neenan’s crusty choir director and Sarah Bolt’s bubbly Sister Mary Patrick contribute to the pleasant mirth (writer Douglas Carter Beane has punched up the script), while Chester Gregory is one very endearing guy as the anxious detective who’s crushed on Deloris.
Kingsley Leggs is smooth as polyester as the villain, with a scruffy John Treacy Egan as the standout thug among his fumbling henchmen. The ensemble makes a joyful noise with their voices.
Sharply paced by director Jerry Zaks, the handsome production benefits from designer Klara Zieglerova’s airy yet awesome-looking settings – rose windows pulsating with changing hues – Natasha Katz’s color-drenched lighting and Doug Besterman’s vibrant orchestrations. The precision and clarity of Zaks’ staging and the ever-hustling choreography by Anthony Van Laast propels the show along quickly.
A genial musical that has no intention but to entertain, which it does expertly and enthusiastically, “Sister Act” is a cinch with the summertime tourist crowd and likely to please many a local customer.
“Sister Act” continues at the Broadway Theater, 1681 Broadway at 53rd St., New York. Call (212) 239-6200 or visit www.sisteractthemusical.com.