It's definitely worth braving the winter chill to head to Kansas City's Music Hall for the current limited engagement of the five-time Tony Award-nominated Sister Act. Produced in part by Whoopi Goldberg (who also starred in the 1992 Sister Act movie), this razzmatazz Broadway Across America musical garnered thunderous applause and a standing ovation on opening night.
If you can imagine a Roman Catholic Mass as a combination of an over-the-top, ultra-glitzy Las Vegas lounge show, a particularly funky episode of Soul Train, and a succession of hip and pelvic gyrations performed in worthy disco fashion by a convent of nuns in full habits adorned with eye-popping glitter, then you will rock to the beat of Sister Act.
Make no mistake--this production is in no way disrespectful to the religious community it portrays. Instead, it causes the audience to fall in love with each of the women who, in spite of the show's humorous "take" on convent life, are not just caricatures, but flesh-and-blood humans, questioning their faith and their callings, while loving their fellow man.
At first you may wonder if you're watching an alternative version of the 1965 movie The Sound of Music, with Mary Searcy (understudy who portrayed the lead character, Deloris, on opening night, in place of Ta'Rea Campbell) taking over Julie Andrews' part of Maria, and Lynne Wintersteller (as Mother Superior) launching herself into the role of the film classic's Mother Abbess. When Wintersteller sings Haven't Got a Prayer, she might as well be asking, How do you solve a problem like Maria?
But despite the obvious similarities (free-spirited addition to the convent getting on the rigid Reverend Mother's nerves), comparisons end there, for Deloris is not a chaste, yet impetuous postulant like Maria, but a sassy, streetwise drama queen who yearns for nothing more in life than a fur coat from her married lover, Curtis Jackson (played with flair by Melvin Abston), who also happens to be a low-life gangster who thinks nothing of plugging a friend in the head with a bullet. Deloris also seems hell-bent on doing stupid things (like blowing her cover by going into a dive bar in full habit on Christmas Day) that not only endangers her own life, but the lives of the Sisters who are sweetly trying to protect her from her murderous boyfriend. Maria von Trapp would have never stooped so low.
So it's a little tough to have empathy for Deloris, the ultimate self-centered diva, and the action drags a little during the opening scenes of Act I, when it looks as if the audience will have no one to root for. But Searcy's mega talent in the singing and dancing numbers seems to be Divinely ordained. She is a powerhouse and carries the bulk of the musical segments performed in the convent on her able shoulders.
Standout performances are also delivered by the delightfully comic Florrie Bagel (as the overly enthusiastic Sister Mary Patrick), Ashley Moniz (who offers a particularly poignant portrayal of Sister Mary Robert, a young novice), Richard Pruitt (a white guy named Monsignor O'Hara who channels his inner Barry White) and Charles Barksdale (so hilarious in his rendition of TJ, the gangster's clueless nephew, that he had the opening night audience helplessly convulsing with laughter). But it's Chester Gregory (as police officer Eddie Souther, a poor schmuck who has never lived down his high school nickname of "Sweaty Eddie") who makes you want to fall to your knees as a true believer. This guy can not only dance like John Travolta and sing like Marvin Gaye, but during his show-stopping solo I Could Be That Guy, he's a better illusionist than magician David Copperfield, managing to baffle and awe audience members, wondering how on earth he is able to change from his police uniform to his disco costume and then back to his police uniform, while not skipping a beat of his groovy moves.
Comic relief is provided throughout the show by the gangster's three hit men (or Three Stooges)--the aforementioned Barksdale as TJ, Ernie Pruneda as Pablo, and Tad Wilson as Joey.
The grand finale, where even a giant statue of the Madonna is covered from head-to-toes in glitter, is nearly blinding in its intensity, putting even the most fervent Holy Rollers to shame. Bring your sunglasses.
Take a break from the winter doldrums and go see this uplifting, toe-tapping musical before it gets away. You may come feeling depressed, but you'll leave feeling blessed.