Reviewed by Jessica Neu
The skies have parted, and the heavens have opened on the Benedum Center, where the Pittsburgh CLO concludes its triumphant 2022 summer season with Sister Act. Running through August 14, 2022, the show is based on the hit 1992 movie of the same name.
Former American Idol contestant, Tamyra Gray, makes her CLO debut in the show’s lead role of Deloris Van Cartier. Gray makes the role originated on film by Whoopi Goldberg her own with an acting and singing ability that can be described as equal parts human ability and a gift from God.
Alongside Gray, Anne Tolpegin portrays the traditional and orderly Mother Superior who graciously welcomes Deloris into her convent for protection after witnessing her boyfriend (Benjamin H. Moore) commit murder.
However, as Deloris turns the convent’s choir into a glitzy act that resembles a Donna Summer concert, Mother Superior is hesitant to see the benefit of Deloris’ unconventional ways, despite the church financially succeeding and thereby no longer in jeopardy of closing.
Tolpegin’s comedic timing brings a sardonic tone to the character, but her tension between accepting Deloris versus adhering to how she perceives the conservative will of God makes the musical far more thought-provoking and meaningful than the film version of Sister Act.
Each of the nuns has a unique personality that comes together to make the convent whole, harmonious and praise-worthy. The clever juxtaposition of religious contemplation with comedic farce is representative of how religion in theater is portrayed for a 21st-century audience. Post 9/11, when audiences wanted to laugh and be reminded of community, musicals centered around religion took a more comedic turn than when the 1970s Jesus Christ Superstar and Godspell debuted. Sister Act and other religious musicals such as Book of Mormon make audiences sing and laugh while delivering a subtler message of God’s word than Superstar or Godspell.
Musical numbers such as “Sister Act” highlighted Gray’s vocal prowess but were also cleverly written so that Deloris’ “sisters” and what they brought to her life could also be a metaphor for Jesus. Standing downstage, alone to contemplate her thoughts, she connected with audience members who, at some point in their lives, have likely reflected on their own purpose, plan, or path.
Similarly, “It’s Good to Be a Nun” drew laughs from the audience, who instinctively laughed at the catchy, up-tempo number when the nuns sing about the precarity of their lives. Still, the song also prompts audiences to realize that these women may not be singing this song as a joke, and they like their lives which are not something to be laughed at.
Sister Act represents the notion that we exist in a society of multiplicity and that dialogic civility is paramount to progress. After sharply telling Mother Superior, “I don’t need you to lecture me on my life,” she later has a conversation with her safe keeper and adamantly declares, “look what happens when we talk!”
Beneath the shiny silver lame robes and musical numbers that rival a gospel church choir is the reminder that plurality and change are necessary for progress and growth.
In the showstopping number, “I Haven’t Got a Prayer,” Mother Superior acknowledges that she is far more privileged than those Saints who endured great suffering in the past. However, she is still conflicted because the solution to her congregation’s financial hardship is Deloris’ choir performances which entices more people to attend church. Even God is not immune to a neo-liberal economic framework in which profit is necessary for survival. Mother Superior laments that the solution to the problem is killing her as she reflects upon her ability to accept new people and habits and genuinely questions what it means to be a Christian.
Sister Act pushes audiences to the intersection of Christianity and Capitalism and presents a world in which people rejoice in change and alterity; Amen!
For more infformation and tickets visit: https://www.pittsburghclo.org/shows/sister-act