Twenty-four years ago, Whoopi Goldberg had a sizeable movie hit with Sister Act, playing a nightclub singer hiding out from thugs in a Philadelphia convent. Like so many popular movies, it was turned into a stage musical, arriving on Broadway in 2011, running almost a year and a half.
But — as with every other show that season — it was overshadowed by the monster success of The Book of Mormon, which also leered lightheartedly at religion.
In almost any year, however, Sister Act would be an also-ran, a workmanlike show with a handful of pleasant tunes, but hardly inspired material. Now available for production by regional companies, it has been picked up by Boca Raton’s Wick Theatre, which mounts a pleasant enough evening once it gets past the sluggish first half of the first act.
Somewhat reminiscent of the premise of Some Like It Hot, Deloris Van Cartier (formerly Doris Carter) sees her boyfriend commit a murder, so she is put under protective custody — in a nunnery. Of course she is out of her depth among the devout sisters, but she eventually wins them over by whipping their choir into such good shape that they save the financially ailing church and attract the attention of the pope. (Don’t forget, it’s a musical. Plausibility is not a high priority.)
Deloris’s brassy, irreverent ways irk the strait-laced Mother Superior, but she is admired by the rank-and-file nuns whom she inspires to overcome their various personal hurdles. Deloris also draws the romantic attentions of a Philly cop with the unfortunate, but accurate nickname of “Sweaty Eddie.”
Through no fault of director Michael Ursua, the show does not kick into gear until Deloris takes over the leadership of the choir, turning them from off-tune dirge singers to a hip-hop gospel ensemble with show biz flash. The good news: The congregation swells and the convent gets beyond its money woes. The bad: Sudden media attention also brings the goons hot on Deloris’s trail.
You can figure out the rest, even if you have never seen the movie. The musical is designed even-handedly, with a song or two for each character, where he or she pours out his/her inner thoughts, usually to a 1970s rock beat.
Among the standouts is Andre Russell (Sweaty Eddie) caressing a mellow Alan Menken melody (“I Could Be That Guy”) while executing a couple of quick-change costume moves. Even better is Jessica Brooke Sanford, as newbie postulant Sister Mary Robert, pouring out her heart in a want song, “The Life I Never Led.” And wouldn’t you know it, thug Curtis’s three underlings — Michael Cartwright, Pasqualino Beltempo and Elijah Word — make a close harmony trio on a ballad to nuns, “Lady in the Long Black Dress.”
As Mother Superior, Danette Cuming scores with a couple of more traditional Broadway numbers (“Here Within These Walls,” “Haven’t Got a Prayer”) with clever lyrics by Glenn Slater. Still, the show is designed around Deloris, played by Patrece Bloomfield, a powerhouse vocalist imported from Central Florida who is the superglue of the production.
Without becoming too preachy, Sister Act has a few faith-based messages to impart. And if you happen to find nuns inherently funny, this Wick show would make a fine holiday outing for the whole family.
SISTER ACT, Wick Theatre, 7901 N. Federal Highway, Boca Raton. Through Friday, Dec. 23, $75-$80. (561) 995-2333.