Of all the Broadway musicals I’ve seen over the years at Westchester Broadway Theatre, only a handful have elicited the noisily enthusiastic audience response I observed at the recent opening night of “Sister Act.”
There were outbursts of applause in the middle of some numbers, and several clever turns of phrase sprinkled in the dialogue landed squarely, to the delight of big laughers in our midst.
There’s no doubt “Sister Act” is a feel-good pop musical. It reminds us that sometimes simplicity wins the day.
Based on the hit movie from 1992 with Whoopi Goldberg, the story by TV writers Cheri and Bill Steinkellner (who penned “Cheers”) and Douglas Carter Beane is straightforward and fast-paced.
With the setting changed to Philadelphia in the 1970s, the show is a frothy mix, with echoes of beloved classic “The Sound of Music,” immortal movie comedy “Some Like It Hot” and “Dreamgirls”: Deloris Van Cartier (Zuri Washington) is a disco diva who walks into a murder scene and has to be spirited away for her own safety by police. Her hiding place is a convent where she raises the singing voices of the nuns’ previously uninspired choir.
The score by Disney composer Alan Menken (who wrote “The Little Mermaid”) and lyricist Glenn Slater provides an entertaining blend of ‘70s-influenced ballads, solo songs written for big female voices, and soulful, rousing production numbers excitingly delivered by more than a dozen nuns.
Zuri Washington as Deloris, Mary Jo McConnell as Mother Superior and Lani Corson as Mary Robert deliver standout vocal performances in solo turns. Philip Michael Baskerville as bad guy Curtis Jackson, Danny Wilfred as lovestruck policeman “Sweaty” Eddie Souther and Jayson Elliott as hapless henchman Joey (whose physicality evoked Jackie Gleason) make the most of their roles, as does Ken Jennings as Monsignor O’Hara. Also worthy of mention is Katelyn Lauria, who does a hilarious hip-hop send-up that the audience loved.
“Sister Act” opens with a “Dreamgirls”-like number, with three nightclub singers emerging into view from beneath the stage. The theater’s large, circular stage elevator makes a grand entrance that enhances the title number “Sister Act,” as Deloris rises high above the audience atop a carousel-like platform. The seven-piece live band is in fine form, though at times it sounded louder than the dialogue.
The show is directed and choreographed by Donna Drake, with musical direction by Bob Bray. It runs through July 1. For ticket information: 914-592-2222; BroadwayTheatre.com.
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