The local premiere and national tour of the immensely tuneful 2011 Tony Award-nominated musical “Sister Act” arrives at the Schuster Center as an uplifting, endearing, silly, and thoroughly entertaining experience.
Presented by the Victoria Theatre Association’s Premier Health Broadway Series and based on the 1992 Whoopi Goldberg film of the same name, “Sister Act” concerns the humorous, redemptive journey of wannabe diva Deloris Van Cartier (amiable understudy Mary Searcy), who is forced to hide in a convent and disguise herself as a nun after witnessing a murder at the hand of her gangster boyfriend Curtis (a sharply menacing Melvin Abston). Along the way, Deloris finds her purpose by transforming the convent’s hopelessly inept choir into an overnight sensation much to the chagrin of the Mother Superior (a splendidly resolute Lynne Wintersteller).
This funny, predictable fish-out-of-water premise, adapted by librettists Cheri & Bill Steinkeller (“Cheers”) and Douglas Carter Beane and accented with spirited direction by Jerry Zaks, could use more depth but basically adheres to the foundation of Joseph Howard’s original screenplay, particularly the delightful, clashing exchanges between sassy Deloris and the no-nonsense Mother Superior that shape the show’s themes of love, friendship, sacrifice and forgiveness. Even when a few jokes written for Curtis’ corny cronies misfire, the feel-good spirit of the show never wanes. In fact, the key decision to transplant the material from the early 1990s to late 1970s Philadelphia is an outright winner, specifically from a music standpoint. After all, the main attraction is the fantastic score by lyricist Glenn Slater and Tony- winning and eight-time Academy Award-winning composer Alan Menken. Menken’s marvelous melodies are a delectable, toe-tapping blend of disco (“Take Me to Heaven,” “Sunday Morning Fever”), pop (“Fabulous, Baby!,” “Sister Act”), R&B (“When I Find My Baby,” “Lady in the Long Black Dress”), and peppy show tunes (“It’s Good to Be a Nun,” “Raise Your Voice,” “Spread the Love Around”) with a sunny pinch of Disney thrown in for extra measure (the darling “Bless Our Show”).
In addition to the aforementioned actors and a terrific female ensemble, first-rate performances extend to the supporting players. Chester Gregory reprises the role of insecure police officer Eddie Souther (which he originated) with endless charm, particularly producing a heartfelt, Lou Rawls-tinged version of “I Could Be That Guy” complete with one of the best costume changes in recent musical comedy. Florrie Bagel is a bouncy bundle of gleeful energy as Sister Mary Patrick. As timid Sister Mary Robert, dynamic soprano Ashley Moniz fills “The Life I Never Led” with sincerity and gusto. Richard Pruitt enjoyably embodies Monsignor O’Hara with lighthearted authority.
Scenic designer Klara Zieglerova’s striking stained glass motif, Lez Brotherston’s stylish, era-appropriate costumes, and Anthony Van Laast’s cheery, sprightly choreography also boosts this glitzy showcase that remains as infectious as the first time I saw it in London’s West End in 2009.
“Sister Act: The Musical” continues through Feb. 2 at the Schuster Center, Second and Main Streets, Dayton. Performances are today and Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 and 7:30 p.m. Act One: 65 minutes; Act Two: 60 minutes. Tickets are $40-$96. For tickets or more information, call Ticket Center Stage at (937) 228-3630 or visit www.ticketcenterstage.com. There is a special Super Bowl discount for the Sunday evening performance if purchased by Jan. 31 (use code HAILMARY at www.ticketcenterstage.com or call Ticket Center Stage at 937-228-3630).