Saturday, July 2, 2011

Review: 'Sister Act' Reborn at the Broadway Theatre

Patina Miller and the company
Alena Watters, Rashidra Scott and Patina Miller
Victoria Clark and Patina Miller
When I viewed the London production of ‘Sister Act’ last year, I was extremely disappointed as the matinee progressed (click HERE for that review) and couldn’t wait for the show to end. There was very little to like and it appeared a transfer to Broadway unlikely.

Behold a miracle. Not that the show is in perfect shape but that producers had enough faith to bring it to the Broadway Theatre this spring. They did have some reservations with the London version as Jerry Zaks was brought in as the new director and Douglas Carter Beane (‘Little Dog Laughed,’ ‘Xanadu’) added to make improvements to the book by Cheri and Bill Steinkellener.

The story about Deloris Van Cartier (Patina Miller), an aspiring club singer on-the-run, has been transplanted for the stage to the 1980s and a score of disco songs. When Deloris witnesses a murder she is placed in protective custody in the one place the police are sure she won’t be found: a convent. Disguised as a nun, she finds herself at odds with the rigid lifestyle and the uptight Mother Superior (Victoria Clark). Using her fabulous disco-sense, Deloris inspires the off-key choir that includes the shy Sister Mary Robert (Marla Mindelle) and jolly Sister Mary Patrick (Sarah Bolt) and brings new life to the church which may blow her cover. Hot on her heels is her mobster boyfriend Curtis (Kingsley Leggs) and his partners in crime (John Tracey Egan, Caesar Samayoa, Demond Green).

Demond Green, Caesar Samayoa, Kingsley Leggs and John Treacy Egan
Chester Gregory and Patina Miller
Whoopi Goldberg, star of the "Sister Act" film, is such a unique talent and with her name plastered all over ad copy as a producer for the Broadway production, it makes it that far more difficult for Miller to make the role of Deloris her own. But Miller is indeed game. She definitely has the vocal chops to carry her disco songs especially her two opening numbers “Take Me to Heaven” and “Fabulous Baby”; and is still touching when she performs the title-song ballad. She is helped with the tighter direction of Zaks and book from Beane but the shadow of Goldberg remains looming large over the show.

The score has grown on me since London and I much adore the big finale song “Spread the Love Around.” Though the score was Tony nominated, the nomination slot could have easily gone to “Catch Me If You Can” which was locked out of the field. It was a choice between an inconsistent field of eligible musicals. (The score for the superior ‘The Book of Mormon” was the eventual winner). Composer Alan Menken and lyricist Glenn Slater did tweak the numbers and added a new song (“Haven’t Got a Prayer”) for the Mother Superior to display the talents of actress Clark. She in turn elevates the supporting role for Broadway.

Sarah Bolt, Marla Mindelle and Patina Miller
The 'Sister Act' Broadway company
The nuns especially Mindelle and Bolt appear too eager to please which is a symptom of the characterization that was not solved in the transfer from London. Among the men, bad guys Egan, Green and Samayoa have some decent comedic moments and Fred Applegate as the Monsignor steps in now and then to punch up several scenes while Chester Gregory as the cop in love with Deloris fades into the background. Because the musical is a family show, Leggs’s mobster role is watered down and never seems as threatening as his character should be.

Some improvements have been made to the garish production design compared to the London production. However the overly bedazzled costumes for the nuns keep the show a full arm’s length from anything believable.

Perhaps two saving graces is the finale which gives the audience an upbeat note before leaving the theater and that joke involving the Pope. It’s simple but still quite funny. One thing I noticed at the Broadway Theatre is the confessional in the lobby where patrons are encouraged to share their love for the show. Should I confess that I found the show more engaging and entertaining if still imperfect this second time around. It didn't matter. It appeared there were more than enough patrons to keep the confessional occupied well after the matinee ended.

Patina Miller

  • Website:
  • Where: Broadway Theatre, New York City
  • Location: 1681 Broadway (between West 52nd & 53rd Streets)
  • When: Tue 7pm; Wed-Sat 8pm; Wed & Sat 2pm; Sun 3pm
  • Running Time: 2 hrs 30 min
  • Ticket Prices: $51.50-$129
  • Opening: Apr 20, 2011 (previews from Mar 24, 2011)
  • Closing: Open Ended Run
  • Book Online:
  • Book by Phone: 1-800-432-7250
  • Cast Recording: Sister Act - Original London Cast (Broadway Cast Recording unavailable)
Fred Applegate, Victoria Clark, Chester Gregory and Patina Miller
Alena Watters and Patina Miller
Patina Miller and the company
Patina Miller and Marla Mindelle
Patina Miller and the company
Patina Miller and the company


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