Hallelujah! Sister Act is here for a short time only at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts’ Opera House, and you certainly won’t want to miss out on this festive, religious experience that will give you reason to rejoice!
After a Broadway run in 2011 directed by Jerry Zaks that gave it 5 Tony Award nominations including Best Musical, Best Book, and Best Original Score, Sister Act – based on the popular 1992 movie of the same name starring Whoopi Goldberg—fills the halls of the Kennedy Center’s Opera House with harmonies that are sure to leave even the stiffest patrons swaying and tapping their toes all night long.
Featuring original music by eight-time Academy Award winner Alan Menken (Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, and Little Shop of Horrors) and lyrics by Glenn Slater, Sister Act builds up to a dazzling finale in which the entire audience leapt to their feet—some even moving to dance in the aisles. It’s the perfect combination of feel-good, gospel music, and a supremely talented company that leaves even the most frequent of theatre-goers pleasantly surprised by its animated choreography and electrifying power chords.
When Deloris Van Cartier (Ta’rea Campbell) witnesses a crime and seeks refuge in a convent, Mother Superior (Hollis Resnik) takes her in and introduces her to a family of sisters whom she befriends and coaches as part of the church’s choir. Leading the choir, Deloris and her sisters learn about the universal power of friendship, the strength of loyalty, and the importance of empowering oneself by finding one’s true voice.
Ta’rea Campbell’s invigorating vibrato and exceptional stage presence made her a captivating lead—carrying her own weight in a role that was originated by the Tony-award winning actress Patina Miller (for Pippin this year) and Raven-Symoné, who made her Broadway debut as Deloris in 2011. In the opening number “Take Me To Heaven,” the audience is given a rudimentary glimpse of the range and timbre of Campbell’s voice—a foreshadowed tease of her energetic, powerhouse renditions of “Raise Your Voice” and “Sister Act” later on in the show. Her electrifying vibrato is matched only by choreography (by Anthony Van Laast) that makes the entire performance a somewhat out-of-body experience, incorporating elements of religion (like hands joined in prayer) with classic jazz moves (like the classic two-step). Resnik’s beautiful rendition of “Here Within These Walls’ (with Campbell) was one of the highlights of the evening.
Sister Mary Patrick (DC area’s own Florrie Bagel)—one of Deloris’ slightly offbeat companions at the convent—had impeccable comedic timing, which provided the right dose of comic relief during some of tenser scenes when Deloris enters the convent for the first time. Her comedic timing was sustained throughout the entire evening, causing the audience to erupt in raucous laughter frequently throughout the evening. Furthermore, Sister Mary Robert (Ashley Moniz) was one of the scene-stealers of the night. Her rendition of “The Life I Never Led” was not only vocally top-notch, but captured the perfect mix of youthful naiveté and hope.
The set design by Klara Zieglerova and lighting design by Natasha Katz also calls for special recognition. With pieces reminiscent of a cathedral complete with panels of gorgeous stained-glass windows, the set and lighting design transports audiences to a scene familiar and conservative in many ways; making it all the more shocking and liberating as the plot unfolds as it reveals a very different narrative from the one that might be expected from such a set. The set design narrowly walks the line between conservative and progressive, mirroring the way in which the plot, too, is at once familiar yet unique. Lez Brotherston’s costume design adds to this wonder: while one might not make much of a traditional robe a nun might wear, Brotherston takes it to the next level by adding sequins and glitter galore in the finale numbers in Act II.
While the first act was entertaining (though a bit plot-heavy), the second act left me with goose bumps from curtain-up to the final curtain call. Don’t be surprised to bump a few shoulders as you exit the theatre as it’s not uncommon to see patrons bopping their heads and shaking their hips as they leave this feel-good, joyous celebration of all that musical theatre has to offer!
Running Time: Approximately two hours and ten minutes, with one 20-minute intermission.
Sister Act plays through November 10, 2013 at The Kennedy Center’s Opera House – 2700 F St NW, in Washington, DC. Purchase tickets online, by phone at (202) 467-4600, or at The Kennedy Center box office.