If the thought of a nuns’ choir in glittering habits gyrating with Travolta-like moves and praising God to a Motown beat floats your boat, I’ve got just the show for you.
It’s “Sister Act,” based on the 1992 Whoopi Goldberg film about a pop/soul singer who whips a sad-sack convent nuns’ chorus into a real show choir, bringing in more worshippers and donations than ever and saving the convent from sale and destruction.
To flesh out the original spare but rather charming story idea, they’ve set the musical in Philadelphia in 1977, added a new score by multiple Oscar winner Alan Menken (lyrics by Glenn Slater) and tossed in a fairly unsavory plot line including gangsters and cops (one cop in particular).
The road show of “Sister Act” plays through Sunday at San Diego Civic Theatre under the auspices of Broadway San Diego.
The plot goes like this: disco diva Deloris Van Cartier (Alysha Delorieux, subbing for the listed performer), refused work in his club by boyfriend Curtis Jackson (Kingsley Leggs), accidentally walks in as Curtis is murdering someone.
Deloris reports the murder to the cops and goes into the witness protection program, where the plot starts to sound like “The Sound of Music:” Deloris hides in a convent whose Mother Superior (Hollis Resnik) is less than thrilled to welcome this noisy, disruptive sinner. But Deloris wins over the nuns by working with the choir, encouraging them to get their groove on and spiff up their musical presentation.
Meanwhile, there’s the chase plot, Curtis having sent his henchmen to find Deloris.
It all works out rather like “The Sound of Music” too, with the nuns saving the day and Deloris deciding that working with her “sisters” is more important than possible fame, wealth and loneliness on the pop circuit.
Delorieux heads a terrific group of singing actors in this musical nod to the Motown, soul and gospel sounds of the ’70s. Delorieux has the great pipes and winning stage presence to carry this demanding role with no apparent difficulty.
Resnik is a solid presence as Mother Superior, her warm mezzo voice contrasting in humorous ways with Deloris’ brash pop delivery.
Another standout is Lael Van Keuren as the shy young postulant who learns to let loose, even to question whether the nun’s life is the one for her.
Kingsley Leggs reprises Curtis – the role he originated on Broadway – ably backed by his henchmen Joey (Todd A. Horman), Pablo (Ernie Pruneda) and TJ (Charles Barksdale).
E. Clayton Cornelious is both convincing and amusing as Deloris’ former high school classmate, now cop Eddie (aka Sweaty Eddie), still sweet on Deloris in his own bumbling way.
“Sister Act” has high energy, a fine cast, great singing and clever design and tech elements going for it. But there are no plot surprises and surprisingly little musical variety, and the one-trick-pony aspect of the plot makes it a less than satisfying experience for me.
But the opening-night audience loved it.
“Sister Act” plays through Aug. 4 at San Diego Civic Theatre, Third and B streets, downtown.
Thursday and Friday at 7:30 pm; Saturday at 2 and 7:30 pm; Sunday at 1 and 6 pm.
To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.