Joyful noise abounds in “Sister Act,” a musical comedy based on the popular 1992 Whoopi Goldberg movie. This crowd-pleasing confection doesn’t pretend to be anything other than a lighthearted romp.
In the St. Louis regional premiere, Stages St. Louis pumped up the volume with slick, super-sized soul sister numbers, aided by Stephen Bourneuf’s snappy choreography.
Oscar, Grammy and Tony-winning composer Alan Menken (“Beauty and the Beast”) features R&B-tinged and gospel-flavored group songs in his upbeat, bouncy score, with lyrics by Glenn Slater. They have fun with these lively vocals: “Raise Your Voice,” “Take Me to Heaven,” “Fabulous, Baby!” and “Sunday Morning Fever.”
Costume designer Brad Musgrove must have scooped up every sequin in a multi-state area to ramp up the razzle-dazzle on costumes. As the nuns’ habits progress from the customary to ultra-glam, the musical numbers get livelier and more elaborate.
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And the characters sparkle like a disco ball onward through the neatly tied up conclusion and rousing on-your-feet curtain call, “Spread the Love Around.”
This sisterhood mash-up between a typical “Law and Order” procedural, another “Nunsense” knock-off and a Donna Summers concert in full disco diva regalia entertains in a fun and familiar way.
The adaptation opened on Broadway in 2011, earning five Tony nominations, including Best Musical.
Set in ’70s era Philadelphia, flashy, sassy lounge singer Deloris Van Cartier witnesses her married mob boyfriend bump off a snitch. With his goons hot on her trail, she hides out in a convent, but aggravates the Mother Superior enough as to be perpetually in trouble. She reluctantly agrees to put Deloris, disguised as Sister Clarence, in charge of the choir.
The book, revised by Douglas Carter Beane, is less than divine — a rather routine, clichéd, low-brow and predictable sitcom-y effort.
But the performers sell it to a receptive crowd, earning lots o’ laughs. They remind us why the movie was one of the most popular comedies of the ’90s.
(Why it is set in the kitschy ’70s is a mystery, except justifies disco beats and using the ubiquitous trunk as a coffee table that nearly every young single had in their harvest gold-avocado green-tangerine-hued apartment.)
Nevertheless, the quirky personalities of the nuns emerge — and endear. The ensemble’s most amusing characters included Sarah Michelle Cuc as the sunny, often giddy Sister Mary Patrick, quick with a smile and a giggle; Michele Burdette Elmore as a spirited Sister Mary Lazarus, and Kari Ely as a pixilated elderly Sister Martin-of-Tours.
In a virtuoso turn, Leah Berry stands out as obedient novice Sister Mary Robert and shows off powerful pipes in “The Life I Never Led.”
In musicals, nuns tend to be genuinely funny, and this order’s first number, “It’s Good to Be a Nun,” immediately sets the tone for merriment to follow.
Lithe Dan’yelle Williams easily slipped on Deloris’ persona and displayed polished vocals in musical numbers. Williams often electrified in this star vehicle, soaring in song, especially in the redemptive solo “Sister Act.” She gained in confidence as Deloris found her voice and friendship.
Broadway veteran Corinne Melancon, seen this summer in Stages’ “The Drowsy Chaperone” as the sauced-and-saucy title character, couldn’t have selected a more disparate role than as Mother Superior. She embodies every religious authority figure in demeanor, and sings beautifully, exhibiting an expressive and angelic voice in “I Haven’t Got a Prayer” and “Here Within These Walls.”
In supporting roles, Steve Isom is a very funny Msgr. O’Hare and Curtis Wiley is a likable Eddie, demonstrating sharp dance moves.
Director Michael Hamilton has extracted winning performances from this colorful cast, with characters actors given an opportunity to shine.
The macho trio of Myles McHale as Joey, dumb as a box of rocks; fleet-footed Kevin Curtis as cocky T.J. and Keith Boyer as excitable Pablo are a hoot when they try to out-swagger each other in “Lady in the Long Black Dress,” and in “When I Find My Baby,” along with Kent Overshown as tough thug Curtis.
Ace-in-the-hole John Flack brought down the house in his rock star appearance as Pope John Paul II.
Scenic designer James Wolk expertly created a number of detailed sets to reflect the church, convent, bar next door, police station, back alleys and Eddie’s apartment. Sean Savoie’s lighting design established moods and heightened tension in various configurations.
Sometimes fluff is a good and badly needed way to relax, rewind and rejuvenate. “Sister Act” is a fun diversion elevated by the passion of the performers, who stick with you after the show fades.
When: Now through Oct. 9
Where: Stages St. Louis, Robert G. Reim Theatre, Kirkwood Community Center, 111 S. Geyer Road, Kirkwood, MO
Information: 314-821-2407 or www.stagesstlouis.org