Friday, December 23, 2011

Worst of 2011: #4

Worst Shows of 2011
#4 Sister Act

Patina Miller and the cast of Sister Act

The creators of Sister Act are going to have to say a lot of Hail Marys to atone for the multitude of sins committed by this movie adaptation gone awry.  It’s not often that a show manages to insult my intelligence *and* offend me, but Sister Act did both with such ease it’s almost scary.

One of the show’s many unforgiveable sins is the absolutely atrocious, anachronism-filled book.  I shudder to think what the show was like in London if Douglas Carter Beane’s many rewrites are considered actual improvements.  The show makes a point of being set in the 1970s (presumably to compliment Alan Menkin’s disco-infused score), but almost all of the jokes and the manner in which they’re delivered are supremely contemporary.  They also aren’t particularly funny, making the choice even more irritating.

The script also suffers from particularly uneven characterization, oftentimes violating the show’s established rules in an attempt for laughs.  The biggest example of this comes during the number “It’s Good to Be a Nun,” in which the members of the convent complain about the various aspects of life as a nun, like early mornings prayers and hours of meditation and self-study.  Now last time I checked, nobody in modern day America is forced to join a convent, and if these nuns are all so miserable why don’t they just leave?  The song would have been equally effective if the nuns had been enthusiastic about their lives, highlighting the fish out of water scenario lead character Delores finds herself in while actually being true the characters onstage. 

Which points to a larger problem with the show: although not Catholic, I left the show vaguely offended by the way the show continually mocked the Catholic faith and those who choose to live by it.  You would expect The Book of Mormon, from South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, to be the most offensive show of the year when it comes to religion, but I genuinely feel like it has a greater affinity for the religion at its core.  Mormon pokes fun at some of the religion’s tenants, but never crosses the line into condemning those who lead their lives based on those teachings.  Sister Act actively judges all of its characters, condemning them for choosing to participate in such a deeply ritualized faith, and yet expects us to simultaneously empathize with these women.  Talk about mixed messages!

Outside of the various structural problems, the performances in Sister Act are all over the map.  Patina Miller is clearly talented and generally quite strong in the role Whoopi Goldberg made famous, but her performance lacks that spark of vitality you expect in a big budget musical comedy.  After playing 2 years on the West End prior to coming to Broadway, Miller’s performance has started to feel stale, as if the actress is on autopilot.  Victoria Clark’s Mother Superior also doesn’t quite work, although for reasons harder to pinpoint.  On its own, her dry and understated delivery is often hilarious, but since everyone else in the show opts for a much broader acting style, Clark seems oddly out of place.

The musical takes forever to get going, with much of its first act wasted on unfunny one-liners and god-awful subplots involving the male characters.  The men are actually so poorly written and haphazardly performed, that an easy way to determine the entertainment value of an upcoming scene or song is to ask yourself, “Do I see a male onstage?”  If you do, it’s an excellent time to check your program or go to the bathroom.

Sister Act disappoints on so many levels that it makes my blood boil.  Unlike some screen to stage transfers, the show actually has a premise that naturally lends itself to musicalization.  And while I enjoyed the Whoopi Goldberg film of the same name, it is by no means one of my favorites, so I don’t have a problem with the stage version’s decision to jettison large swaths of the film in favor of original material.  What I do have a problem with is almost all of those changes being for the worse.  I’m personally hoping the show posts a closing notice soon, and puts all of us out of Sister Act’s misery.

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