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NY Theater Reviews

Alena Watters, Rashidra Scott and Patina Miller/ Ph: Joan Marcus

DISCO SUNDAY

By BILL STEVENSON

Having moved across the pond, Sister Act offers enough wisecracks and high-energy production numbers to satisfy most members of the theatrical congregation.

Hot on the heels of Priscilla: Queen of the Desert comes another 70s-disco tuner, Sister Act. Both are based on hit movies and boast upbeat retro tunes, high-energy dancing and groovy period costumes. Unlike Priscilla, Sister Act isn’t a jukebox musical, however. The music is by Alan Menken (Little Shop of Horrors) and the lyrics by Glenn Slater (The Little Mermaid). Though the songs aren’t all winners and the plot offers few surprises, Sister Act comes alive during its rousing ensemble numbers.
 
Following a run in London, the musical has been tweaked by director Jerry Zaks and writer Douglas Carter Beane (who punched up the book by Cheri Steinkellner and Bill Steinkellner). Beane has contributed some zippy one-liners, and Zaks keeps the tempo up even during the less spirited scenes.
 
As in London, Patina Miller plays Doloris Van Cartier, an aspiring nightclub singer in 1970s Philadelphia. After she sees her gangster boyfriend kill a man, Doloris goes undercover as a nun. “You mean I gotta go incognegro?” she asks. With her thigh-high purple boots and mini-skirt, Doloris isn’t a natural candidate for a nun’s habit. And the Mother Superior (Victoria Clark) isn’t inclined to bend the rules for a party girl. Doloris soon makes herself useful by taking over as choir director. Once she does, the musical hits a new gear with the buoyant “Raise Your Voice” and a peppy reprise of “Take Me to Heaven.”
 
Miller (Hair) looks nothing like Whoopi Goldberg, who starred in the film and is a producer of the musical. But she has a big voice, sex appeal and enough stage presence to carry a Broadway show. Clark (The Light in the Piazza) gives a relatively subdued performance as the dour head nun. At least she gets to show off her pipes during her act-two solo “Haven’t Got a Prayer.” And by the time the big finale, “Spread the Love Around,” arrives, her Mother Superior busts a few disco moves along with her fellow nuns.
 
Most of the characters haven’t changed much since the film. Sister Mary Patrick (Sarah Bolt), the Kathy Najimy role, is bubbly and relentlessly upbeat. Bolt has fun with the part, and Audrie Neenan is just as good as the more cynical Mary Lazarus.
 
Despite a few lame jokes and so-so songs, Sister Act offers enough wisecracks and high-energy production numbers to satisfy most members of the theatrical congregation. It seems that sequins, bell-bottoms and Donna Summer references will be alive and well on Broadway for some time.