We’re All Just Nuns on the Path to Righteousness

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Gather round.  It’s guilty pleasure confession time.  My dramatic secret:  I watch Hilary Duff movies religiously.  That’s right– sparks flew between Lizzie McGuire and me long ago, and our affair is anything but over. Let me make one thing clear:  I understand Hilary Duff movies belong on the Goodwill shelf.  However, sometimes “C" movies make us happier than Citizen Kane.  Sometimes a great movie does not make for a great movie experience.  This exception is applicable not only to movies but also to theater.  Sometimes, a play can be a great source of laughter and entertainment, regardless of how well it was executed.  Such is the case with Sister Act, which is currently on Broadway and has been since April 20, 2011.

Many King's students are well-acquainted with this show, since it is Admissions’ recurring choice for the Inviso complimentary play this semester.  This pick should give us pause, since King’s vision claims to be about creating art that resonates with people, not just art that renders a quick thrill.  I’ll admit: I danced unabashedly down 51st street when it was all over, but I will not remember Sister Act.  When I face great theater, I not only immerse myself in the catharsis of the protagonist, but I also face a personal catharsis.  I think, “Look at this treasure these artists have created; how will I ever match that brilliance?”

Patina Miller returns as Deloris Van Cartier after playing it with West End, chosen for the role over Raven Symone.  Ms. Miller has a contagious energy that spreads to the others on stage.  She’s the captain of the choo-choo train, but you can hear the chug-a-lugging when she takes a break.  Carolee Carmello, playing the tight-wadded mother nun, created a stand-out moment alone on stage when she cries out to God.  Her cries seemed half-hearted, but later in the plot, the character admits she never really believed God would change her anyway.  Ms. Carmello could have cried out with total vulnerability to prove her worth as an actress, but she bravely chose to stay within her character's boundaries.

Aside from that, the show is not tight.  The actors react slowly and seem uninspired.  The show feels more labored than played.  At points, some of the supporting actors’ sweat is dripping so much, you’d think you were at a force-fed dinner theater.  The only exception to this is the gospel numbers.  The nuns are so ridiculously happy, smiles spread to the audience like wildfire.  It’s a toe-tapping party in the cheesiest yet most literal sense.

On that note, sheer joy that makes you skip down the street cannot be induced– it must be experienced; the chorus of Sister Act did something right.  The nuns are a laudable group of Broadway infants rejoicing that they made it to the stage.

Another noteworthy performer is Fred Applegate.  As the Monsignor, he is hospitable, in a way.  He welcomes the audience, often subtly acknowledging it with his humor.

After some serious self-criticizing, I realized why I love Hilary Duff: she captures the earnest spirit of the middle-school girl who’s fallen down but gets back up.  She’s insecure, but she’s trying; she’s fearful, but she’s feisty.  When I watch her movies, I feel like somebody “gets” my inner outcast, and I too can take one for Team Underdog.  Watching Sister Act feels like watching actors who are down on their luck until they sing the Lord’s praises and remember why they fought their way to the stage.  Still, I was not stirred morally or aesthetically to change the world.  I did not face a catharsis for my future in that theater. Yet I realized that I can still experience an easy joy on the journey.  Sister Act does not belong on the Goodwill shelf. If it did, we would all be items suitable for donation.

Sister Act plays at the Broadway Theater on 53rd and Broadway. Click Here for tickets and more information.

CultureKatie Hay