Sister Act brings out the holy hilarity

In my life, I’ve been known to be afflicted with what is commonly known as the “church giggles.” You know, when you’re supposed to be listening quietly, but you can’t stop laughing? Well the good news—at least for those who are similarly prone to stifling snickers at inappropriate times—is that you can have your church and your giggles too at Marriott Theatre’s performance of “Sister Act.”

If You Go

For those familiar with the 1992 Whoopi Goldberg film, this 2006 musical staging retains the basic structure—aspiring singer witnesses crime, has to go into witness protection in a convent, transforms the church’s tone-deaf choir into a lounge-worthy musical act— but with a few tweaks. Rather than ‘90s Nevada, this version is based in ‘70s Philadelphia and comes complete with gangsters, disco style and music that raises the rafters.

In short, it’s the most purely fun show I’ve seen in a long time. The Marriott Theatre’s in-the-round set-up makes it easy for the audience to engage in the action, including the slapsticky final scenes that are made all the funnier thanks to being able to see the tricks of the trade. I was also impressed by the ease with which the sets were changed, using relatively sparse decorations to evoke the convent and church.

The true star of the show is Stephanie Umoh as Deloris Van Cartier/Sister Mary Clarence, who brings the perfect swagger and an octave-spanning voice to the role of the club singer trying to tamp down her oversized personality. But there’s enough spotlight to go around. The nuns steal the show with their impressive renditions of “Take Me to Heaven” and “Sunday Morning Fever,” with Hollis Resnik as Mother Superior and Tiffany Tatreau as Mary Robert showing off impressive pipes on their solo numbers. I also got a kick out of mob minions Joey, Pablo and TJ (Jason Slattery, Mark Hood and Aaron Holland), whose “Lady in the Long Black Dress” gave me my biggest fit of giggles of the night.

As evidenced by that song, which is laden with sexual innuendo, the movie might have been rated PG, but this show’s not necessarily for young kids. There are a fair number of mild curse words, in addition to sexual references (which, in all honesty, might go over kids’ heads). I even heard the teenage girl in front of me ask “What’s that?” about a reference to Quaaludes. If you have mature tweens or teens, they’ll probably enjoy the show, or you could also make it an adults-only affair.

Another thing: If you’re especially sensitive to good-natured sacrilege (perceived or otherwise), this might not be the show for you. Although it’s obvious that the show respects faith traditions, it’s treated with a very light hand that can come across as flippant. Having been raised in a religious household, I found it more funny than offensive, but if you’re not the type to laugh at the phrase “moral high colonic” (one of the many bon mots found in “It’s Good to be a Nun”), you probably won’t enjoy the show too much.

As for me, I left the theater with a song in my heart—specifically, “Take Me to Heaven”—and a smile on my face, the direct result of having so much fun at the theater. Because holy moly, did I get the church giggles—and I bet you will too.

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