“Sister Act, the Musical” looks like a social experiment to find out what happens when a disco diva and a group of nuns are forced together for a time span sufficient for some form of cultural chemistry to take place. The diva is a talented singer but desires nothing but fame and fortune. The nuns can’t sing, but they find value in lives of selfless spirituality. The result, of course, is that each party gives something to the other. The disco diva teaches the nuns to sing and dance – and in so doing enables them to save their church and stay together. The diva discovers that there is more to life than fame and shiny objects. The exchange is complete.
The Tacoma Musical Playhouse production of “Sister Act,” which runs through June 4, is a sassy, silly and sultry excursion into sonic sensations that stimulates the senses with sparkling sights and scintillating sounds. Based on the 1992 musical comedy film starring Whoopi Goldberg, “Sister Act” was made into a Broadway musical in 2011. It has since become a staple of community theater.
The basics of the plot are that the aspiring disco singer Deloris Van Cartier (Lanita Hudson) witnesses a murder, goes to the police and is placed in a convent disguised as a nun to keep her safe from her gangster boyfriend Curtis Jackson (Russell Campbell,) who committed the murder. Leading lady Hudson gives a strong performance marked by a lush, grainy voice that cuts through like a velvet buzz saw.
Deloris’ foil is the Mother Superior of the order (Diane Lee Bozzo,) who is opposed to the presence of so worldly a personality as that of the brash Deloris. Bozzo’s operatic surges swell to the rafters in songs like “Here Within These Walls” and “Haven’t Got a Prayer.”
Kat Fresh is perfection in the role of the perpetually spritely and adventurous Sister Mary Patrick and Lark Orvick-Moore gets big laughs with her antics as Sister Mary Lazarus. Maggie Barry is stunning as the shy, novice nun Sister Mary Robert who is drawn out of her shell under the influence of Deloris. In “The Life I Never Led,” Barry steps up to the plate and hits it out of the musical ball park with a sweet and buttery, yet strong lyrical performance.
Campbell is great as the villain. His main tune, “When I Find My Baby,” is both amusing and menacing as he sings about what he’ll do when he finds Deloris after she has gone to the police. Rich humor is provided by two of the villain’s henchmen Joey (John Miller) and Pablo (Mathew Michael.) Isaiah Parker, as the villain’s nephew TJ, is most fun to watch throughout the show. Parker enlivens every scene in which he appears with his joyful and complete habitation of his role.
Eddie, the police chief (Duwayne Andrews, Jr.,) is smitten with Deloris, whom he had a crush on in high school. Andrews is featured in one of the high points of the show. He undergoes several inventive transformations of persona during his performance of “I Could Be That Guy.”
Dale Bowers, as Monsignor O’Hara – the priest turned M.C – is just plain fun to watch. The ensemble cast members all provide backup that leavens this production, which is punctuated by big song and dance numbers. Ashley Koon and Linda Palacios are captivating as Deloris’ backup singers.
The elaborate sets, brilliant lighting and bedazzling costumes (that smack of the height of 1970s disco pizzazz) all come together to create a visual spectacle that is a match for the musical feast. The show is marked by moments of visual magic, sprinkled liberally with humor and still manages to be evocative of an emotion response. There are nuns gathered in their pajamas, Mary Roberts’ moments of questioning and growth, dancers with glittering, psychedelic bellbottom pants and a priceless cameo appearance by director Jon Douglas Rake as the pope.
As we wait for the cool, wet weather to change into something more comfortable, TMP’s “Sister Act” provides a warm glow to carry one through an evening. “Sister Act” runs through June 4. For further information visit www.tmp.org or call (253) 565-6867.