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Theater review

‘Sister Act’ delivers satisfying songs and shenanigans

Wednesday, February 19, 2014
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Theater review


The national tour of "Sister Act: A Divine Musical Comedy" is at Proctors through Sunday. (Joan Marcus photo)
The national tour of "Sister Act: A Divine Musical Comedy" is at Proctors through Sunday. (Joan Marcus photo)

‘Sister Act’

WHERE: Proctors, 432 State St., Schenectady

WHEN: 7:30 tonight, 1:30 and 8 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday.

HOW MUCH: $80-$20

MORE INFO: 346-6204, or www.proctors.org

— Just what kind of night you’ll have at “Sister Act” is apparent from the winking curtain speech: “The use of recording devices is a sin.”

And we’re off and running through nearly three hours of silly and satisfying shenanigans offered up by an expert cast and a wow-wow pit band, led by Brent-Alan Huffman.

Literally running, with superstar wannabe Deloris (Ta’rea Campbell) fleeing from the clutches of her gangster boyfriend Curtis (Melvin Abston) and a trio of cartoonish hitmen, played to a fare-thee-well by Tad Wilson, Chris Chatman and Charles Barksdale. Deloris seeks asylum in a convent, the unlikeliest place for a young black Philadelphia club singer who has witnessed a murder to be found.

How do you solve a problem like Deloris? Watch as the discombobulated Mother Superior (Jessica Sheridan) and a collection of convent kooks (two hilariously played by Florrie Bagel and Diane J. Findlay) sort it out before the day is saved by the sweet and sexy cop Eddie Souther (Chester Gregory).

Revised treatment

Put the delightful Whoopi Goldberg 1992 treatment out of your head and make room for a revised treatment of the story, this one with disco-driven music of the ’70s by Alan Menken (lyrics by Glenn Slater) and a fresh book.

If you, like me, sometimes feel the sound at Proctors is way too loud, flattening the lyrics in the process, just get past the opening number, a Supremes-style sexy routine called “Take Me to Heaven” that showcases Deloris’ show-biz talents and cleverly prefigures another kind of heaven in the reprise later in the act.

While the other big production set pieces also feature some over-the-top blasting, they’re nicely balanced elsewhere by a handful of solos and a few duets and trios, numbers that — thanks to Slater’s clever lyrics — reveal character.

Sheridan scores on the reflective “Here Within These Walls” and the amusing “Haven’t Got a Prayer”; Abston, channeling Barry White, is creepily funny on “When I Find My Baby”; Dawn Rother (playing Sister Mary Robert on Tuesday) is moving on “The Life I Never Led”; and Gregory, who originated the role of Eddie on Broadway, is all over “I Could Be That Guy.”

Menken has the creds (eight Oscars, “Beauty and the Beast,” “The Little Mermaid,” “Little Shop of Horrors”) and he knocks out ABBA, Motown, gospel and Bee Gees sounds with ease. (There’s even a nod to “West Side Story”!) Tony Award-winning director Jerry Zaks and British choreographer Anthony Van Laast get the most from the large cast, and the huge and smoothly shifting sets remind us once again about the technical jewel that Proctors is.

Singer’s showcase

If Audra McDonald ever gets sick, call on Ta’rea Campbell. She has pipes and over-the-footlights charisma. But Campbell also delivers when she tones it down, showing a real and earnest young woman in slightly over her head wherever she is. Maybe Campbell won’t have to wait for McDonald: This tour ought to pave the way for even more opportunities of her own.

The Capital Region has a new Roman Catholic bishop, and the world is still riding the high of Pope Francis. All hail — but leavening the pomp with a dose of the playful “Sister Act” can’t hurt.

 
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