It’s a toss-up as to the most joyous aspect of “Sister Act.”
It could be the songs. “Take Me to Heaven” is an instant anthem. Or, the costumes; who knew nuns’ habits could be so much fun? Or it could be Patina Miller. There’s a luminosity about the young star, who belts out many of the terrific songs and knows how to work purple suede, thigh-high platform boots.
The fun movie from 1992 has become a delightful Broadway show with a disco beat. It’s also one of the few shows that kids can see. Whoopi Goldberg, who starred in the film, is a producer here, and everyone is cast perfectly.
The show opens with Deloris Van Cartier (Miller) and her two back-up singers in full ’70s disco regalia, auditioning for Curtis (Kingsley Leggs), a gangster and Deloris’ married love. He owns a nightclub where she’s trying to perform. Curtis fatally shoots an associate who thinks he squealed, and unfortunately for Deloris, she was leaving the nightclub at the time and saw the murder.
She swears she saw nothing, but Curtis and his gang — his dimwitted nephew TJ (Demond Green); would-be lothario Joey (John Treacy Egan) and a guy who only speaks Spanish, Pablo (Caesar Samayoa) — are now after Deloris. They’re an excellent trio, especially when singing and dancing about how they would romance nuns.
Deloris flees to the police station where she meets Officer Eddie (Chester Gregory), whom she remembers from high school as “sweaty Eddie” because he perspired whenever he was around her. That hasn’t changed. Eddie is nervous but knows enough to get Deloris to a safe house. And what house could be safer than a convent?
The convent in question is in financial dire straits, and “two bachelors who deal in antiques” may buy the building. Cloistered from the secular world, the nuns go about their business, which includes singing for the parish. Their choir, at best, is woeful.
The nuns need Deloris as much as she needs them. Mother Superior (Victoria Clark) instantly disapproves of Deloris. When Monsignor O’Hara (Fred Applegate) reminds Mother Superior that she took a vow of charity, she responds, “I take it back.”
Mother Superior is terrifically arch throughout. When Deloris tries to smoke, she asks if there is a smoking section. Mother Superior says, “Yes, dear, and you are headed for it.”
Deloris bristles at the idea of wearing the flowing habit. “If I wear this dress, I will die,” she says. Mother Superior replies, “Then we have a plan.”
Though Deloris had attended Catholic school, not too much stuck, evident in her prayer: “In the name of the father, the son and the holy smokes.”
Even if you hadn’t seen the movie or its sequel, you know that the struggling disco singer and the lackluster nuns will help one another, and that it will be a fun ride. Just how much fun, though, is the surprise.
Deloris sparks life into the chorus, and soon their habits are ablaze with glitter and they’re belting “Sunday Morning Fever,” the opening number of act two. Set designer Klara Zieglerova does a magnificent job with the stained glass and enormous statue of the Virgin Mary.
And though every member of this cast shines, the pure joy of Miller, in her Broadway debut, is reason enough to see this.