Sunday, September 21, 2014
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Review: 'Sister Act' at the Academy of Music

By Wendy Rosenfield FOR THE INQUIRER Only heaven and producer Whoopi Goldberg know why Sister Act — the 1992 film featuring Goldberg as Deloris Van Cartier, a soul singer who spies a murder committed by her gangster boyfriend and gets witness protection in a San Francisco convent — deserves its own musical in 2013. It was cute, sure, but not exactly the type of flick people walk around quoting. Maybe changing its setting to 1970s Philly and rooting its tunes among TSOP and Philadelphia International Records-style slow jams is an appeal to the changing demographics of the Great White Way. Maybe Goldberg just really, really liked that movie; Broadway works in mysterious ways. There’s about as much resonance in Cheri and Bill Steinkellner and Douglas Carter Beane's book as there is in, say, Mamma Mia!, another cheery populist confection (though in-jokes about Market St. misses vs. Rittenhouse Square matrons are always appreciated). But unlike that jukebox musical, Alan Menken’s original tunes and Glenn Slater’s lyrics add street-level grit to Sister Act. Bad guy Curtis Jackson (Kingsley Leggs) and his henchmen sing an old school O’Jays-style ode to Deloris in “When I Find My Baby,” except inside the crooning and synchronized dance moves are lyrics such as these: “Ain’t gonna let that girl get away! No way! Because when I find that girl... I’m gonna kill that girl!” “That girl” just happens to be a real-life Philly homegirl, Ta’rea Campbell. And whether it’s due to all this hometown flavor, Campbell’s exuberant, big-voiced performance, or all those glitter-habited South Philly nuns making a truly joyful noise, the whole thing works, and works in a way that combines sincerity, fun and good old rafter-rattling. Veteran Broadway director Jerry Zaks knows which buttons his audience want pushed. Thus, Hollis Resnik’s Mother Superior — Deloris’ strait-laced nemesis — channels a world-weary Elaine Stritch (circa “I’m Still Here”) in “Haven’t Got a Prayer,” and Deloris’ sass carries not a little of Little Shop of Horrors’ girl-group gusto. So, no, Sister Act isn’t a particularly cutting-edge, or even very relevant evening of musical theater. However, it is a surprisingly good time that celebrates another very good time in this city’s musical history.

Review: 'Sister Act' at the Academy of Music

By Wendy Rosenfield
FOR THE INQUIRER
Only heaven and producer Whoopi Goldberg know why Sister Act — the 1992 film featuring Goldberg as Deloris Van Cartier, a soul singer who spies a murder committed by her gangster boyfriend and gets witness protection in a San Francisco convent — deserves its own musical in 2013.
It was cute, sure, but not exactly the type of flick people walk around quoting. Maybe changing its setting to 1970s Philly and rooting its tunes among TSOP and Philadelphia International Records-style slow jams is an appeal to the changing demographics of the Great White Way. Maybe Goldberg just really, really liked that movie; Broadway works in mysterious ways.
There’s about as much resonance in Cheri and Bill Steinkellner and Douglas Carter Beane's book as there is in, say, Mamma Mia!, another cheery populist confection (though in-jokes about Market St. misses vs. Rittenhouse Square matrons are always appreciated). But unlike that jukebox musical, Alan Menken’s original tunes and Glenn Slater’s lyrics add street-level grit to Sister Act.
Bad guy Curtis Jackson (Kingsley Leggs) and his henchmen sing an old school O’Jays-style ode to Deloris in “When I Find My Baby,” except inside the crooning and synchronized dance moves are lyrics such as these: “Ain’t gonna let that girl get away! No way! Because when I find that girl... I’m gonna kill that girl!”
“That girl” just happens to be a real-life Philly homegirl, Ta’rea Campbell. And whether it’s due to all this hometown flavor, Campbell’s exuberant, big-voiced performance, or all those glitter-habited South Philly nuns making a truly joyful noise, the whole thing works, and works in a way that combines sincerity, fun and good old rafter-rattling.
Veteran Broadway director Jerry Zaks knows which buttons his audience want pushed. Thus, Hollis Resnik’s Mother Superior — Deloris’ strait-laced nemesis — channels a world-weary Elaine Stritch (circa “I’m Still Here”) in “Haven’t Got a Prayer,” and Deloris’ sass carries not a little of Little Shop of Horrors’ girl-group gusto.
 So, no, Sister Act isn’t a particularly cutting-edge, or even very relevant evening of musical theater. However, it is a surprisingly good time that celebrates another very good time in this city’s musical history.


About this blog
Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer. She also is a contributing writer for Variety and American Theatre magazine. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of four books about four playwrights (Rabe, McNally, Miller, Albee), and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). Her 'weekend' job as a travel writer provides adventure: dogsledding in the Yukon, ziplining in Belize, walking coast-to-coast across England, and cowboying in the Australian Outback.


Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.


Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.


Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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