Music by Alan Menken, Lyrics by Glenn Slater, Book by Cheri and Bill Steinkellner with additional material by Douglas Carter Beane. At: Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University, 50 E. Congress Pkwy. Tickets: 800-775-2000; www.BroadwayinChicago.com; $28-$103. Runs through: Dec. 2
Sometimes, when it comes to new musicals, all you want to do is have some nun.
Sister Act, a musical adaptation of the 1992 Whoopi Goldberg film, opened on Broadway a year ago last April, and despite earning acclaim as a real crowd-pleaser, it got completely dwarfed by The Book of Mormon. Smart then, that its North American tour hits the Auditorium Theatre and hightails it out of town right before "Mormon" begins its anticipated Chicago run in December.
Although not likely half as smart as "Mormon," Sister Act undoubtedly deserves a chance to be viewed from out under its shadow. Delightfully tongue-in-cheek, Sister Act shrewdly entertains in spite of the insipid and amateur story line it inherits from the original film.
The secret? Singing nuns. The film's charm came from its collective of quirky sisters and it's that same comedic conceit that the musical plays up so well. The show fills any lack of hilarity with the sheer silliness of its "nunnery."
In terms of music, it's not hard to picture the great Alan Menken literally composing the songs of Sister Act in his sleep. He and current lyrical partner Glenn Slater must have had an abundance of fun riffing on disco as well as '70s gospel and soul music to craft catchy, toe-tapping show tunes with sufficient wit. Not every number is a hit, but you can't ask for a more reliable soundtrack for a musical, not to mention one that also keeps with the light, irreverent tone of the entire production.
The touring cast features some knockout voices, starting with Ta'Rea Campbell in the Goldberg role of aspiring diva Deloris Van Cartier. Campbell, who somewhat ironically appeared in the original cast of The Book of Mormon, can really belt it, even if her lower register gets a little lost, and she packs the appropriate charisma and attitude to rally the nuns.
Chicago actress Hollis Resnik gets an encore in the curtain call for her performance as Mother Superior. The 10-time Jeff Award winner doesn't get any of the glitzy numbers, but she gives one of the few performancesif not the only onecontaining any conviction.
Lael Van Keuren, who plays timid nun-in-training Sister Mary Robert, rather appropriately blows the roof off the stage with a powerhouse voice that probably belongs somewhere performing Wicked instead of something as easy-breezy as Sister Act, but it's voices like hers that really bring some added authenticity to audiences looking to get the most for their dollar from an official touring production.
Sister Act is one of those shows that will likely get some good play when it becomes available to high schools in desperate need of a production that calls for more girls than boys, but that's not to belittle the quality of the show by any means. Rather, it's one of those musicals that follows a classic template for crowd-pleasing success; a reliable, functional and joyful production with music you can groove to and an attitude that suggests it knows that it's exactly that kind of a show.