Nov. 20--Years ago the term for what we now call "musical theater" was "musical comedy." Frankly, the new term is an improvement, taking in even such vintage masterpieces as "South Pacific," "The King and I" and "West Side Story."
But "Sister Act," which made its St. Louis debut on Tuesday at the Fox, really is a musical comedy, with the emphasis on comedy. It's an entertaining show that, after a slightly slow set-up, jumps into its fish-out-of-water story with abandon.
That is, it abandons anything like common sense in favor of cute, goofball humor.
In disco-era Philadelphia, would-be singer Deloris Van Cartier (Ta'Rea Campbell) can't even get her no-good gangster boyfriend Curtis (Melvin Abston) to let her perform at his club. When she accidentally walks in on Curtis' latest murder, Deloris flees, ending up in the care of Eddie (Chester Gregory), a policeman who had a crush on her in high school.
For her own safety, Eddie hides Deloris in a convent, disguised as a nun. The dignified Mother Superior (Hollis Resnik), none too pleased, orders Deloris to help with choir -- which she transforms into troupe that packs the church with its soulful, dance-happy sound. Complications abound en route to the happy, rhinestone-studded ending.
In a role created by Whoopi Goldberg in the 1992 movie that inspired the musical, Campbell exhibits a strong voice with a personality to match, and Resnik gives her plenty to butt up against. Both provide clear, appealing deliveries of their character-revealing songs, "Fabulous, Baby!" and "Haven't Got a Prayer."
These are solid, if predictable, songs in a score composed by Alan Menken with lyrics by Glenn Slater. The orchestra, under Brent-Alan Huffman, gives them plenty of Broadway-style polish, as it does when a shy postulant (Ashley Moniz) lets loose with her show-stopping solo, "The Life I Never Led."
But the score takes a wild, wonderful turn in comedy numbers, brightly staged by director Jerry Zaks. Eddie's fantasy of cool, "I Could Be That Guy," boils the disco era down to its essence. Curtis' weirdo "love song," "When I Find My Baby," heads in a decidedly original direction. He gets backup from his gang members -- Tad Wilson, Ernie Pruneda and Charles Barksdale -- who are terrific here and maybe even better when they express their own deranged notions of romance, "Lady in a Long Black Dress." The three performers -- unexpectedly agile, hilariously "seductive" and not at all scary -- are the kind of comedy ensemble who never get their own show but maybe should.
Turning old movie comedies into musicals has been popular lately. "Sister Act" -- successor to such shows as "Thoroughly Modern Millie," "Legally Blonde" and "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" -- is, like those others, unlikely to point musical theater in a new direction. But as musical comedy, it makes for lots of fun.
When --Through Dec. 1. 8 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays. 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays. 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sundays. 1 p.m. Nov. 21. No performance Nov. 28.
Where --Fox Theatre, 527 North Grand Boulevard
How much --$25-$80
More info --314-534-1111; metrotix.com
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