Standout performers make ‘Sister Act’ shine

Reviewed by Lincoln Pennington
Times-News correspondent

   DURHAM — The Broadway tour of “Sister Act” has descended upon the Durham Performing Arts Center (DPAC) this week to close the theater’s 2012-2013 SunTrust Broadway Series. The Tony Award-nominated show is based on the 1992 Whoopi Goldberg film of the same name and Goldberg also serves as producer.
Unlike the classic comedy, though, the musical takes place in the 1970s and features an entirely new disco-inspired soundtrack to match. Alan Menken and Glenn Slater worked as composer and lyricist, respectively.
   Besides having a new setting in Philadelphia, the show relatively follows the same plot. Deloris Van Cartier, played by Ta’rea Campbell, witnesses a murder and must hide her inner singing diva beneath a nun’s habit in order to stay safe. During her time at the convent, she takes control of the choir and uses her own musical taste to help save the church.
If Campbell’s face and name aren’t familiar at first, DPAC patrons will remember her standout performance as Nala in “The Lion King” as soon as she opens her mouth. Campbell clearly knows how to make this stage her own. From the show’s first few notes in “Take Me to Heaven,” Campbell lets the audience know that she is a force to be reckoned with. Her powerhouse vocals command the audience’s attention, while her sincere performance truly captures their hearts.
Lael Van Keuren also delivers a standout performance as Sister Mary Robert, who goes from quiet and obedient wallflower to loud and commanding star. Though she shows signs of her potential earlier in the show, Van Keuren’s true talent isn’t fully realized until her number “The Life I Never Led” in the second act. Don’t let her completely believable reserved and nerdy performance in the first act fool you; Van Keuren knows how to demand attention and truly deserves a place in the spotlight.
The creative team uses the costumes and sets to help reinforce the show’s overall fun and carefree attitude. The most notable set is the interior of the church. While there are several different interior sections, the main hall is marked by tall stained glass windows and a large statue. As the church’s coffers fill, this set is shown to be getting repaired and updated. For example, some previously black panels are replaced by stained glass window pieces.
Also, when the nuns begin to rock the house, these windows begin to flash various colors to match their beat. It makes the stage feel more like the interior of a disco than a place of worship. However, it is the show’s costumes that actually shine — literally. Many of the costumes are covered in sequins that blind the audience when the stage is full. Some of the costumes are more like walking disco balls than actual pieces of clothing.
Where the creative team truly succeeds, though, is the book. The writing is fresh and funny. It is full of religious irreverence without being offensive. It ensures that everything is family friendly without losing its appeal to adult audiences.
On a local note, Todd A. Horman, a 1994 Elon College graduate, has great comic timing as Joey.
“Sister Act” is a fresh, fun-filled show that is sure to have families and classic musical theater fans clapping along by the end. While the costumes are shiny, the cast of “Sister Act” is even brighter.
Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. May 16, 8 p.m. May 17, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. May 18 and 12:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. May 19, 2013, at the Durham Performing Arts Center, (DPAC), The American Tobacco District, 123 Vivian St., Durham. Tickets start at $17.50 and can be purchased through Ticketmaster at or by calling the DPAC Ticket Center at (919) 680-2787.

 Lincoln Pennington is a rising sophomore at UNC-Chapel Hill and a Teens & Twenties writer.


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