Mirvish Productions – Sister Act: A divine musical comedy

The Broadway touring show of Sister Act is a win win situation. It’s better than the 1992 movie that starred Whoopi Goldberg and Maggie Smith. Like a lot of commercial shows, Sister Act went through major revisions between the West End run (2009) and Broadway (2011), but who cares. The final product is just plain lol clever in its book and lyrics.

The musical story is about singer Deloris Van Cartier (aka Doris Carter) whose boyfriend Curtis Jackson is a gangster. Deloris witnesses a murder and is placed in a convent for witness protection where she clashes with the Mother Superior while getting all the other nuns on side.

Set in the 1970s, the story has inspired a toe-tapping, disco infused score by Alan Menken. Any show that has a hilarious upbeat song about how many ways the gangster is going to kill Deloris (When I Find My Baby) has a lot going for it. And then there’s those zingers. When Deloris discovers that one of the nuns is a postulant, she says that she knows what it’s like being without money.

The cast is first rate, with Ta’rea Campbell as a Deloris who can really belt out a tune, and Hollis Resnik as the tart, sarcastic Mother Superior. Kingsley Leggs does a great job as the no good Curtis Jackson. And mention should be made of lyricist Glenn Slater and book writers Cheri and Bill Steinkellner, and Douglas Carter Beane (who did the Broadway rewrite), for their sophisticated input. The costumes of Lez Brotherston are inspired. As the choir of nuns finds their voices under Deloris’ tutorship, their habits get more bling.

I had a smile on my face from beginning to end, not to mention belly laughs in between.

Sister Act, music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Glenn Slater, book by Cheri and Bill Steinkellner and Douglas Carter Beane, (starring Ta’rea Campbell and Hollis Resnik, directed by Jerry Zaks), Ed Mirvish Theatre, Oct. 2 to Nov. 4, 2012.

Theatre Review – Dancap Productions/Disney Productions’ Beauty and the Beast

Beauty and The Beast is a thoroughly enjoyable production for all ages. First of all, there is the gorgeous score by composer Alan Menken with lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice. Secondly, there are the colourful storybook sets and shape-shifting costumes by Stanley A. Meyer and Ann Hould-Ward respectively. Third is the lively production numbers choreographed by Matt West. The sparkling direction is by Rob Roth. Last is the enthusiastic cast. Yes, I know they are non-equity, but they bring a freshness to the show.

B&TB began as a popular Disney move in 1991 that actually was nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. Three numbers were nominated for Best Song with “Beauty and The Beast” winning the award. The show was developed for a Broadway musical by the original book writer Linda Woolverton. It premiered in 1994 and ran until 1999. In other words, and in the lingo of the trade, the show has creds.

Emily Behny as Belle dominates the show. She has a strong voice with crystal clear diction. Her sunny personality bathes the stage in a warm glow. Behny also makes every dramatic moment count for something. Dane Agostinis plays the Beast like the Phantom of the Opera, but it works. He certainly finds the poignancy in his big first act closer “If I can’t love her”.

Of the rest of the main cast, Matt Farcher’s Gaston is irritatingly arrogant, Michael Haller’s French-accented Lumiere is deliciously droll, James May’s Cogworth is suitably fussbudget, while William A. Martin is Belle’s loving father Maurice. Jimmy Larkin plays Lefou, the show’s buffoon. As Gaston’s toady, he’s a little too slapstick for my tastes, but you could hear children laughing all over the theatre at his physical comedy antics.

The women can all sing. Julia Louise Hosack is a warmly sympathetic Mrs. Potts, Jessica Lorion is the sexy siren Babette, while Jen Bechter’s imposing Madame de la Grande Bouche shows the opera singer she was.

Besides the wonderful musical score, the delight of the show is its look. When the Prince rejected an old beggar woman, he suffered the curse that turned him into the Beast and his household staff into objects. Cogsworth is a clock, Lumiere’s hands are two candlesticks, while Mrs. Potts is a teapot and her son Chip a teacup. The big production number “Be Our Guest” is performed by eye-catching cutlery, plates, a tablecloth and napkins.

My one complaint is the lack of diction on the part of the ensemble and in some of the characters like Cogsworth. That is why Behny’s shines above the rest with her radiant Belle.

Dancap/Disney’ Beauty and the Beast, music by Alan Menken, Lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, (starring Emily Behny and Dane Agostinis, directed by Rob Roth), Four Seasons Centre, Jul. 3 to 22, 2012.