"Sister Act" is so good, fans of the film might find themselves saying, "Whoopi who?" The musical is based on the 1992 Whoopi Goldberg vehicle, and from wit to wimple, it is immensely entertaining.
The year is 1978, and Deloris Van Cartier (Rashidra Scott) hopes to make it big one day as a singer. At the moment she's stuck in Philadelphia, trying out for a spot in the nightclub her boyfriend, Curtis (Kingsley Leggs), owns. When she sees Curtis commit a murder, she runs to the police for protection.
Officer Eddie Souther (E. Clayton Cornelious), a guy who had a crush on Deloris in high school, hides her in a financially troubled church run by nuns and Monsignor O'Hara (Richard Pruitt). The Mother Superior (Hollis Resnik) directs her new charge to act like a sister and help the really awful choir.
Deloris – now Sister Mary Clarence – whips the choir into shape, which brings in parishioners and cash, thereby saving the church from ruin. But the choir's fame puts Deloris in the spotlight she once craved and endangers her to Curtis' itchy trigger finger. Will she evade death at the hands of her dastardly former lover? Will the nuns forgive her trespasses? Will the Nazis get their carburetors back? Wait, that's another story altogether.
Scott is subbing for Ta'Rea Campbell during the show's Tampa run, and she's terrific. She's definitely got singing chops, but that's to be expected. The real treat is her comedic gifts. Mind you, she's not the bug-eyed, scrap hound that is Whoopi; rather, Scott allows Deloris a sweetness mixed with urban 'tude and unselfconscious, sassy humor – especially in Act II.
The cast is excellent, mindful of the nose-snorting hilarity that '70s culture evokes. Again, this aspect peaks in Act II. The choir's performance evolves into a show within a show, where Pruitt pulls off an uncanny Barry White. A priest in vestments digging Barry's sultry bass? Now that's funny. The nuns also get jiggy with Motown moves and early rap, and that's tricky in a habit. Curtis' henchmen, played by Todd A. Horman, Ernie Pruneda and Charles Barksdale, figure three over-the-top, polyester-inspired seduction scenes that will get them into the church's, um, doors. Classic.
Glenn Slater's lyrics and Douglas Carter Beane's text are drawn from the best of the Disco era, as well as the sniggering finger pointing after the glitter ball dropped around 1980. Tongue-and-cheek banter, punny quips and Keystone Cop antics pay homage to yet gently mock Funkytown, "Starsky & Hutch," leisure suits and John Travolta.
Overall, "Sister Act" is a master blend of "Saturday Night Fever" and faith in friends.
When: Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday and 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday
Where: Straz Center, Morsani Hall, 1010 N. MacInnes Place, Tampa
Tickets: $46.50-81.50; (813) 229-7827 and www.strazcenter.org
How much: $46.50-81.50
Running time: 120 minutes