Singing nuns perform heavenly ‘Sister Act’ on Broadway

Singing nuns perform heavenly ‘Sister Act’ on Broadway
From left, Alena Watters, Rashidra Scott and Patina Miller are shown in a scene from the Broadway musical “Sister Act,” in New York.
AP Photo/The Harman Group, Joan Marcus
AP Photo/The Harman Group, Joan Marcus

An inviting non-sectarian, non-denominational nightly ritual recently opened at the Broadway Theater to heavenly praises. Staged at the same location Oprah Winfrey debuted a musical she co-starred with Whoopi Goldberg, “Sister Act” reprises the 1992 film the comedienne starred twice in sequel performances.

Both stars featured in the eye-opening, controversial film “The Color Purple.” When it arrived on Broadway, Winfrey’s name and endorsement of the dark, ground-breaking film successfully transcended the stage to find audiences yearning for group sales discounts and other alluring incentives.

Now Goldberg is hoping for similar embrace with her backing and consistent support of the musical, production that followed her debut film performance.

The latest outing, spotlights the role Goldberg portrayed in films that enabled her to wear a nun’s habit, sing with then newcomer Lauryn Hill, and teach a chorus of off-key religious women.

It is that second act, which is finding favor and repeating the kind of curiosity to leave huge, tour buses parked in front of the theater during performances. Although Goldberg’s connection carries heavy weight, crowds arriving from cities and towns seem to be interested in the stage production, its storyline and the music that landed it on the Great White Way.

True to Broadway standards the production divinely sets the stage for a catholic experience. Following the film’s storyline of a cast of nuns’ experiences when their convent harbors a secular fugitive/singer, an almost holy hell ensues with defiance from the Mother Superior. The head nun in no way condones the arrangement decided by her more superior, male decision makers who believe the church will benefit.

Call it divine intervention or the more plausible police protection program, lead character Deloris Van Cartier (Patina Miller) finds sanctuary in the reclusive and sheltered Roman Catholic order in Pennsylvania. Van Cartier is no saint. She is an aspiring singer who is romantically involved with a married, gangster and murderer. When she walks in on a precarious situation involving the thug, she becomes the sole eye witness. Van Cartier seeks refuge with the police department and is sheltered by the nuns.

One does not have to share religious beliefs to relate to the storyline. Cheri and Bill Steinkellner provide universal interpretation of the lyrically engaging musical.

Much of the scenes are set inside the holy place but there are few hushed moments outside the pews. There is plenty of comic relief to satiate the senses of the faithful and faithless.

Throughout the hideout, the Mother Superior reluctantly embraces the non-traditional guest. She attempts to temper behavior as well as protect the virginal lifestyle of the religious sect by allowing Van Cartier to use her skills to teach the choir.

Although the nuns willingly adapt to the soulful adjustments introduced by the new chorale leader the incompatible union proves a blessing to the congregation.

Needless to say more than a few lessons are taught and the captive woman discovers she is more than a teacher but a student transformed, reformed and empowered by the sisterhood.

Miller is a fresh-faced, newcomer who first received accolades when the play debuted in England there. She continues to ignite the stage by delivering spectacular performances here.

Other stellar thespians in the production include Chester Gregory whose rousing solo rendition of “When I Find My Baby” deserve standing ovations. There are a number of well deserved kudos to Victoria Clarke (Mother Superior “Take Me To Heaven”) Marla Mindelle (Sister Mary Robert “The Life I Never Led”) and the ensemble cast of Rashidra Scott, Alena Watters, Kingley Leggs, John Treacy Egan, Caesar Samayoa, Demond Green, Fred Applegate, Sarah Bolt and Audrie Neenan.

According to the queen of soul who was slated to see the play this week, on recommendation from Goldberg announced on the “The View” that Miller is highly favored to portray the much heralded sister soul in the biopic of Aretha Franklin.

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