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Thanks to a talented cast, 'Sister Act' is heavenly

| Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013, 6:50 a.m.
The cast of the touring company of 'Sister Act.' Joan Marcus

Review

The story offers few surprises, and the scenery ­— with one spectacular exception — has a small budget aura. Nevertheless, the national touring company of “Sister Act” has redeeming qualities that outweigh those sins.

The musical comedy playing at the Benedum Theater through Sunday as a presentation of the PNC Broadway Across America subscription series is blessed with a talented cast that rises above a predictable story with moments of divine inspiration.

The story is already familiar as a 1992 movie of the same name that starred Whoopi Goldberg as a lounge singer named Deloris who is given shelter in a convent when she becomes the star witness in a murder trial.

Like the movie, much of the humor of Cheri and Bill Steinkellner's book stems from the culture clash between the order's strict Mother Superior and the free-living Deloris.

And few will be surprised that, in true musical-comedy tradition, Deloris saves the convent from disaster by teaching the nuns how to inject a disco vibe into their hallelujah choruses.

What will have you singing this show's praises is a stellar cast who turn Alan Menken and Glenn Slater's score into a joyful musical celebration of disco and the divine.

Heading up the cast as Deloris is Ta'Rea Campbell, whose voice and moves enliven songs from the “Take Me to Heaven” opening to the touching “Sister Act” ending.

Woodland Hills High School graduate and Rankin native E. Clayton Cornelious plays the cop assigned as Deloris's protector and longtime admirer. He impresses with his solo number, “I Could Be That Guy,” his talent for self-deprecating humor and a strong, appealing voice.

Lael Van Keuren, who plays the timid, rule-following novice Mary Robert, finally comes into her own when she belts out her reprise of “The Life I Never Led.”

Hollis Resnik offers unsuspected dimensions to her Mother Superior character with “Haven't Got a Prayer.”

Richard Pruitt amuses as his Monsignor O'Hara shifts into showbiz mode, as do Todd A. Horman, Ernie Pruneda and Charles Barksdale as a trio of lively, but hapless henchmen dispatched to track down Deloris.

As the convent's fame and fortunes improve, so does “Sister Act” as a succession of eye-popping and sequined second-act musical numbers fill the show's one spectacular set.

At the end of two-and-one-half hours, the show's glittery “Spread the Love Around” finale sends the audience out on a musical-theater high.

Alice T. Carter is the theater critic for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7808 or acarter@tribweb.com.

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