Various Artists

Sister Act: A Divine Musical Comedy

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The producers of the stage musical adaptation of the 1992 comedy film Sister Act must have faced an important decision early on about how to handle the music. The movie tells the story of a Reno lounge singer played by Whoopi Goldberg who witnesses a gangster murder and, in a variation on the Witness Protection Program, is stashed away in a San Francisco convent by police to await her testimony at trial, meanwhile being disguised as a nun. There, she takes over the choir, transforming it into a religiously oriented version of her '60s pop/soul act to the point of having the nuns sing Mary Wells' "My Guy" (as "My God") and the Isley Brothers' "Shout." So, the question is, when you decide to adapt the film to the stage, do you retain those songs, making Sister Act a "jukebox musical"; do you bring in songwriters to write a new score; or do you combine the two approaches? The producers decided to go the all-new-music route, and to that end they hired composer Alan Menken (best known for Disney films like The Little Mermaid) and lyricist Glenn Slater. Still, the music in the Sister Act film is integral to the story, so those oldies are missed. The standard Broadway approach of giving every major character a song doesn't always work, notably when the lounge singer's gangster boyfriend sings of his determination to find -- and kill -- her in "When I Find My Baby." The song is just too bloodthirsty for the show. Elsewhere, Menken writes pastiches of the songs the audience probably expected to hear and will be disappointed not to. These include not only ersatz Motown, but also "Sunday Morning Fever," a disco/rap number. The talented Patina Miller (who seems to be channeling Patti Labelle, perhaps appropriately, since the story has been re-set in Philadelphia in the 1970s) leads an enthusiastic cast in trying to make this material work, but it really isn't a patch on the music from the movie. [This Original London Cast album, originally issued by First Night Records in the U.K. in 2009, was released in the U.S. by Ghostlight Records on March 22, 2011, two days before the first Broadway preview performance. Patina Miller crossed the Atlantic to repeat her Olivier Award-winning portrayal in New York, with an otherwise all-new American cast.]

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