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Friday, February 15,2013

'Sister' superior

Movie makes seamless slide to stage in musical comedy

by ALLAN I. ROSS
This was the first time I can remember the curtain falling down at the end of Act I and thinking, “That’s it?” As in, “Are we already halfway thr— oh yeah, I guess we did get a lot done there. Wow, that was fast!”

And that’s the only thing bad I can possibly say about “Sister Act: A Divine Comedy,” playing through Sunday at the Wharton Center: It’s over too soon. Well, the sound did have some problems, but we can get back to that later. 

Not a single moment is wasted in the show, which opens the show by dropping you into the middle of a boisterous showpiece. The songs by Alan Menken allow you to skip though the storyline that is, much like the similar nun-ified, “The Sound of Music,” all about the majesty and beauty of making a joyful noise unto the Lord.

You know the story; it was only one of the biggest comedies in the 90s: lounge singer, witness protection, struggling church looking for a miracle, lost soul and overprotective biddy save each other in the best way possible. 

The strong book by Cherie Steinkellner & Bill Steinkeller reflects the pair’s masterful ability to compose catchy comedic beats in their previous work with “Cheers” and “The Jeffersons” (the program team should be ashamed of spelling Cherie’s name wrong). Likewise, those songs — “Raise Your Voice,” ”Lady in the Long Black Dress,” “Sunday Morning Fever” — are nothing but a continuous series of crescendos that you hit like a jet boat bouncing across the water. That’s why it goes by so fast — the show never lets you get your feet wet. 

This is the kind of show that will take the time and effort to rhyme “church apse” and “leather chaps” and then switch it up on you 15 minutes later and get you to think about that “feeling” you get while singing — could be God or the power of the human spirit? Or maybe, just maybe “they’re the same.”

Ta’Rea Campbell fills the lead role of Deloris Van Cartier with enough sass, verve and powerful pipes to clearly make sure you’re in her power with the opening note. Hollis Resnik fills her role of Mother Superior with a realistic love and fear that really brings the character to life. And the heartfelt number by audience favorite E. Clayton Cornelious — who plays “Sweaty” Eddie the friendly, likable cop who’s in love with Deloris, has one of the best surprise stage gags I’ve seen. 

But about that sound: bloody awful. A buzzy speaker and a blown-out mic interrupted one of the biggest numbers, taking a little wind out of the habits. But only for a little bit. 

It’s a big week for Catholics, and the timeliness of the retirement of the pope injects some of the convent jokes with a little extra jolt of humor. And a surprise “celebrity” cameo late in the show almost brought the house to its feet. Or knees. Hard to tell. I was laughing too hard. 

“Sister Act: A Divine Musical”
Wharton Center
Through Feb. 17
7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday; 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday; 2 p.m. Saturday; 1 p.m. & 6:30 p.m. Sunday
$32-$72
Adults $15/students & seniors $12
(800) WHARTON
whartoncenter.com

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