Based on the 1992 Whoopi Goldberg movie, the stage version of "Sister Act" is at times clunky and exasperating. But there's also something relentlessly infectious in Alan Menken's top-notch score and something perkily contagious in the energy of the cast that lift this show if not all the way to heaven, at least skyward.
A touring production of the Broadway musical opened Tuesday at the Bob Carr Performing Arts Centre in Orlando.
Ta'rea Campbell has Goldberg's film role, as sassy, streetwise singer Deloris Van Cartier. Campbell has the right touch of star quality to command attention and boasts a strong singing voice that becomes more evident as the show progresses, culminating in a moving performance of the show's title song.
The title of "Sister Act" stems from the plot: After witnessing a murder, Deloris hides out in a convent led by a no-nonsense Mother Superior. But the singer and the nun learn a thing or two from each other as Deloris teaches the convent choir how to boogie down in praise. Yes, boogie down, because the action has been moved to the 1970s.
That gives a disco vibe to Menken's catchy tunes, augmented by Glenn Slater's clever and funny lyrics. (One song exhorts: "Shake it like you're Mary Magdalene.")
As the primary singing nuns, Florrie Bagel is jolly and warmhearted; Diane J. Findlay is acerbic yet warmhearted; Lael Van Keuren is warmhearted and packs a big set of pipes.
As their leader, Hollis Resnik brings a welcome serene grace to the mugging going on around her. Despite her quiet, weary resignation at Deloris' heathen ways — and more than one sarcastic quip — she remains eminently likeable.
Also quite enjoyable: A comic trio of criminals who scheme to seduce their way into a convent. But as their boss, murderer Curtis, Kingsley Leggs doesn't fare as well. On opening night, he lacked both the menace to be a cold-blooded killer and the charisma to be the object of Deloris's affection.
Because of the transportation required, touring shows often have less elaborate sets than when on Broadway. This is keenly felt in the opening stretch of "Sister Act," which has downgraded its convent from impressive stone-looking sliding columns to a simple gray backdrop.
And a rewrite of the story line by Douglas Carter Beane in between the original London production and its Broadway debut has diminished the show's heart, leaving a more jokey, broadly cartoonish form of storytelling, along with clunky chunks of exposition in the opening scenes.
But those seeing the show for the first time won't miss what they never knew — they'll be chuckling at one-liners such as "My life has been like the Stations of the Cross, but without the laughs."
Finally, for frequent Bob Carr patrons who often suffer through dreadful sound mixes, it should be noted that the sound for "Sister Act" is quite good. Even lyrics in loud, choral numbers can be clearly understood. Apparently, miracles can happen.
• What: Florida Theatrical Association presentation of the Broadway Across America touring musical
• Length: 2:30, including intermission
• Where: Bob Carr Performing Arts Centre, 401 W. Livingston St., Orlando
• When: 8 p.m. today-Friday, Dec. 7; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 8; 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 9
• Tickets: $41-$78
• Call: 1-800-982-2787
• Online: OrlandoBroadway.comCopyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times