Time was when hit Broadway shows were turned into movies. Now, judging by recent productions at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, it’s the other way around.
Recent attractions at the center have included “Billy Elliot,” “The Addams Family,” “Flashdance” and “Catch Me If You Can,” with “Ghost” among the coming attractions — all born on the silver screen. The current occupant is a rousing and rambunctious retelling of another movie, “Sister Act.”
That 1992 flick with Whoopi Goldberg as its centerpiece (she’s a producer on this show) did some borrowing of its own, recalling when Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis witnessed a murder and fled the killers by donning drag and joining an all-girl band in “Some Like It Hot.” “Sister Act” adopted the same plot but put its central figure in a convent serving as a Witness Protection Program.
Here one Doris Carter — rechristened Deloris Van Cartier — is a sassy lady with a voice to die for, trying to hit the big time as a Supremes-type lead singer, when she glimpses the rubout. She’s sent to a nunnery run by a no-nonsense mother superior, your basic “Odd Couple” scenario, and proceeds to transform its lame choir into a Broadway-ready troupe.
It’s a tall order, but Ta’Rea Campbell is more than up to the task. Campbell belts out her many numbers with ringing authority, hitting her high notes with gusto while skillfully handling her comedic assignment. She’s a super-charged performer perfectly cast as the driving force in a vital, throbbing musical.
The show would be enjoyable enough if Campbell were its only prima donna, but director Jerry Zaks gives us two other memorable figures. One is the dour mother superior (Hollis Resnik), who crowns her role as Campbell’s toughest obstacle with a “superior” rendering of her sterling solo, “Haven’t Got a Prayer.”
Among the sisters is a postulant who hasn’t yet taken her vows and flirts with the prospect of possibly kicking the habit. Lael Van Keuren beautifully handles this character and seals it with her rousing breakout number, “The Life I Never Led.”
Comic menace is projected skillfully by Kingsley Leggs as the murderous mobster, while E. Clayton Cornelious delivers dutifully as “Sweaty Eddie,” the cop who is stuck on Deloris but is too shy to press the issue (he doesn’t even carry a gun). The hoods are a Three Stooges-like trio, with Charles Barksdale standing out as a neophyte resembling the Pillsbury Doughboy who uses his corpulence to elicit extra laughs.
Choreographer Anthony Van Laast keeps the show moving at a splendid pace, and Lez Brotherston’s glittery costumes — even on the nuns in the climactic number — enrich the visual quality, capped by Campbell’s awe-inspiring curtain call gown. Lighting effects by Natasha Katz are equally impressive.
“Sister Act” is a rich, crowd-pleasing musical treat with Ta’Rea Campbell gloriously taking over where Whoopi Goldberg left off two decades ago. It’s a heaven-sent gift of love at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts.
TOM TITUS reviews local theater for the Daily Pilot.
If You Go
What: “Sister Act”
Where: Segerstrom Center for the Arts, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturdays, 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sundays until Aug. 18
Cost: Tickets start at $20
Information: (714) 556-2787 or https://www.scfta.org