My opinion of the Broadway Musical lifted from the Hollywood Blockbuster is less than great. Four out of five are something just this side of tragic and most of the others are produced by Disney. The Whoopi Goldberg produced Sister Act The Musical is the most recent offering of the genre to North Texas theater fans. After a three week run at Dallas’ Fair Park the tour packed up this week and made the trek to Fort Worth and Sundance Square’s Bass Hall.
The premise of Sister Act is nothing new. Delores, a stereotypical Vegas lounge singer is forced to hide out in a convent on the verge of closure, while waiting to testify as the star witness in the murder trial of the married mob boss she was dating. The twist is the convent and its’ Nuns. With the exception of the addition of a romantic storyline for Deloris and Detective Eddie Souther the plot basically follows that of the film. If it ain't broke...
The Dallas run of the show provided a fun night of feel good theater but what it lacked was the human connection with the main character that made the film a success. Goldberg’s Delores was selfish; she had no interest in anyone’s success but her own. Goldberg’s portrayal of the lounge singer focused on stardom and her transition to a woman that cared more about the Nuns than herself is what made Sister Act one of the most successful movies of the nineties, and one that stands the test of time. You grew to care about Delores as she grows to care more for the nuns than herself. She helps the nuns discover their greater self, their untapped talent and a greater purpose for themselves and the convent. In doing so she saves the convent and even impresses the Pope. It was the lack of this connection that made the Dallas run a good but not great show.
Tuesday Night at Bass Hall Gisela Adisa takes the helm of this sister act as Delores Van Cartier. This one change, while seemingly minor, changes the entire tone of the show. Adisa captures the character Goldberg brought to life some twenty years ago in a way that had been missing. Not to mention she possesses a vocal ability that is reminiscent of watching Stephanie Mills in the Wiz. Delores is crass and funny but under all the big wigs and loud make-up, under all the sequins and cheap furs there is a human being, and a good one. In the end we are reminded to never judge a book by its cover. You do that and you might just miss out on some of the best people out there. Adisa makes this an in your face reality.
Charles Barksdale as TJ is this casts' other standout performer. A Texas native Barksdale holds the crowd in his palm any time he is on the stage. While in one of the smallest roles as the mobster's nephew his dual personalities as the slow yet suave mobster in training is priceless. He plays both sides of this character to perfection. He also is the only cast member who can match Campbell’s powerhouse vocal ability. He is reminiscent of Luther Vandross or Freddie Jackson-the big boy with the sexy voice. His comedic timing is spot on.
Mary Jo McConnel was another change for Fort Worth and as Mother Superior was a delight. Lael Van Keuren as Sister Mary Robert comes to the tour straight from the original Broadway cast and it shows her voice is bold and powerful. I found Florrie Bagel as Sister Mary Patrick to be playing a caricature of the character Kathy Najimy created in the movie. Fun, but a bit over the top.
E. Clayton Cornelious as Detective Eddie Souther delights with his voice and his turn as the suave man he envisions he could be in a bold musical dance number backed up by homeless people is a spark of comedic genius.
This Sister Act has the stamp of Whoopi Goldberg throughout. The opinionated and political Goldberg most recognized today is a far cry from the Goldberg of the early eighties who created a one Woman show that was so impressive that none other than Mike Nichols took it to Broadway. In The Spook Show Goldberg created characters that would be considered misfits or social outcasts, and took us inside their world in a way that led Steven Spielberg to offer her a role in The Color Purple after attending the show. The show offered a look into these lives from their own perspective. While introspective it was also filled with very sharp humor. We are reintroduced to this Goldberg here, Goldberg as brilliant comedian, certainly not the Goldberg of The View. Sitting through this show feeling her touches throughout was like reuniting with an old friend I had not seen in sometime.
The music is catchy and fun, When I Find My Baby is over the top fun but Raise Your Voice & Fabulous, Baby are the songs you will leave the theater humming.
The sets and lighting were perfect and outshone only by the costumes. You have not lived until you have been in the presence of a fifty foot virgin mary ensconced in so many sequins you know she must have been through and extreme drag make over.
I went into Sister Act in Fort Worth looking forward to a good night of theater. There is rarely a night at the Bass not worth attending. Sundance Square has your entire evening all wrapped up in a convenient park once make a night of it package that cannot be found elsewhere in North Texas. Dallas tries with One Arts Plaza, but even if they ever get that right, it will most certainly pale in comparison. Add to that the addition of Gisela Adisa and Sister Act is not to be missed. Sister Act offers what I go to the theater for. I want to exit the theater with a smile on my face, a song in my brain and a reminder of what is so easy to forget in our crazy daily lives. Life is good!
Sister Act plays Fort Worth's Bass Hall on Tuesday, June 18th. Tickets are $38.50-$99.00 and available at http://basshall.com/
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