May 15--DURHAM -- The joyful noise during opening night of "Sister Act" at the Durham Performing Arts Center on Tuesday wasn't just the music on stage, but the laughter from the audience. The Broadway musical's national tour is at DPAC through Sunday.
Based on the 1992 Whoopi Goldberg film, the musical is set in late 1970s Philadelphia with a disco feel and original music by Alan Menken and Glenn Slater. It follows the same general plot of the movie, with singer Deloris Van Cartier witnessing a murder and being hidden in a convent, winning over the nuns and helping them put some pizzazz in their choir. As Sister Mary Clarence, Deloris teaches them to, as the most memorable song instructs, "Raise Your Voice."
There are gangster bad guys and violence, but the kind you'd see on a 1970s cop show, with accompanying music. It's more for high jinks effect, with chases across the stage. There are jokes that will get extra laughs from churchgoing folks, with references to the first Catholic folk Mass, the Shroud of Turin and balm of Gilead. And anyone who has been part of a choir at some point could surely identify with either Deloris/Sister Mary Clarence or the nuns.
Ta'Rea Campbell makes the lead role her own, not an easy task with Goldberg in the audience's minds as Deloris from the film. Her vocals reach the rafters, as do those of Hollis Resnik as Mother Superior and Lael Van Keuren as Mary Robert, who was in the original cast of "Sister Act" on Broadway. Sweaty Eddie, the timid cop who has a crush on Deloris, seems at first a character that warranted one audience member to say "Bless his heart," during a scene. But Eddie finds his confidence, and E. Clayton Cornelious, who portrays him, lets his inner charm out in a memorable vocal performance.
The first act starts out a little slow, but by the time Deloris and the nuns get going in the second act, the laughs flow easily and the songs bring the performance hall to the kind of crescendo a choirmaster would love. As the cast began to take their bows opening night, the audience rose quickly, ready to give a theatrical "Amen."
WHAT: "Sister Act"
WHEN: Through Sunday, May 19
WHERE: Durham Performing Arts Center
123 Vivian St., Durham
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