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'Sister Act' on Broadway: What did the critics think?

April 21, 2011 |  2:30 pm

Sisteract

It's been a long road to Broadway for "Sister Act," the stage musical based on the hit 1992 movie starring Whoopi Goldberg. The show premiered in 2006 at the Pasadena Playhouse, then moved to the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta the following year. In 2009, the musical debuted on London's West End and spawned a U.K. tour.

On Wednesday, "Sister Act" finally opened in New York at the Broadway Theatre, in a revamped production directed by Jerry Zaks, who did not direct the previous stagings. Though Goldberg is on board as a producer, the role of Deloris Van Cartier -- a lounge singer who enters a convent as part of the witness protection program -- is played by Patina Miller, who starred in the  London production. Tony winner Victoria Clark plays the convent's disapproving mother superior.

Mixed reviews for the tryout runs have led producers to hire playwright Douglas Carter Beane to spruce up the book by Cheri Steinkellner and Bill Steinkellner, which moves the story to Philadelphia in the 1970s. The original songs by Oscar-winner Alan Menken and Glenn Slater evoke R&B and gospel.

Critics have responded mostly with praise, but not everyone was a convert.

Charles Isherwood of the New York Times liked some of the R&B numbers but added that the show often "slumps back into bland musical-theater grooves and mostly lacks the light of invigorating inspiration." Despite some impressive creative talent, the production "has all the depth of a communion wafer, and possibly a little less bite."

The Hollywood Reporter's David Rooney wrote that despite some missteps, the musical "comes together to provide payoff in laughs, emotional uplift and spectacle." In the lead role, Miller takes "most of the patchy first act to seize ownership of the role, which she eventually does. In the more assured second act, the musical catches fire, establishing a fresh identity distinct from that of the movie."

Jeremy Gerard of Bloomberg described the production as a "ripping goodtime hit" and wrote that Miller has "roof-raising" appeal as the protagonist. "Nothing unexpected happens in 'Sister Act,' a fairy tale we already know. But it's delivered with exceptional glee and polish."

The New York Post's Elisabeth Vincentelli called the show "one of the season’s happiest surprises." As Deloris, Miller is a "tornado-like belter with fine comic timing. We’ll hear from her again come Tony time."

RELATED:

Sisteract2 'Sister Act' musical finally heading to Broadway

Theater review: 'Sister Act' at the Pasadena Playhouse

Songwriter Alan Menken gets his star on the Walk of Fame

Pasadena Playhouse: A time to rethink fundamentals

 

-- David Ng

Photos: Scenes from the Broadway production of "Sister Act." Credit: Joan Marcus

 

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