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‘Sister Act’ at Bass Hall is a well-polished gem

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Sister Act

Through Sunday

Bass Hall

Fort Worth

7:30 Wednesday and Thursday; 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 2 p.m Saturday; and 1 p.m. and 6 p.m. Sunday


817 212-4280; www.basshall.com

Posted 9:24am on Wednesday, Jun. 19, 2013

Some shows can draw consistent laughs. But few (maybe even nun) are as habitually funny as this one.

The touring production of Sister Act, the musical based on the 1992 film of the same name that starred Whoopi Goldberg, opened a six-day, eight-performance run at Bass Hall on Tuesday. And about the only sin it committed was taking the notion of keeping the lead character’s identity hidden just a little too far.

As you may remember from the movie, the story deals with Doloris (Gisela Adisa despite what the program said Tuesday), an aspiring soul singer in Philadelphia in the late 1970s who witnesses her gangster boyfriend, Curtis (Kingsley Leggs), deal out some fatal justice to one of his henchmen who has talked too much to the wrong people. When she reports the crime to the police, they decide the best plan is to stash Doloris away in a convent to keep her safe until her months-away court date. Needless to say, it is not a good fit. And as the Mother Superior (Mary Jo McConnell on Tuesday) and her charges try to solve a problem like Doloris, Curtis and his crew close in for the kill.

This production, presented by Performing Arts Fort Worth, shines in nearly every aspect. Almost all of composer Alan Menken’s tunes are fully realized, and the acting is also especially good for a musical. The players’ efforts are well supported by an outstanding pit orchestra. The choreography by Anthony Van Laast is often as clever and funny as the dialogue, in this show written by Cheri and Bill Steinkellner. Director Jerry Zaks has definitely put together a complete package in terms of the performances.

And the show also looks great. The sets, designed by Klara Zieglerova, come and go so quickly and invisibly that it makes you wonder how you got where you are. And, visually, they range from serviceable to stunning. Costumer Lez Brotherston has some fun with the 1970s being the decade that good taste forgot. And, as with the sets, there are a few costume changes that happen so fast that they border on being magic tricks.

Adisa and McConnell led the charge well, heading a cast that is studded with other standout performances. Leggs is a coolly menacing presence as the trigger-happy Curtis. Among the more pious cast members, Sister Mary Lazarus (Diane J. Findlay) is half drill sergeant, half holy terror and all nun. Sister Mary Patrick (Florrie Bagel) slices the shtick pretty thick, but to good effect, and she has a great voice. But the best set of pipes in this cathedral are not found in the organ. They belong to Lael Van Keuren in the relatively minor role of Sister Mary Robert. And almost all of the other players deliver a memorable moment or two with either their acting or singing.

The only little hiccup in this highly polished production was that Adisa and McConnell, who are both understudies who normally play other roles in the show, didn’t get their due. In most visiting shows such as this one, even the most minor cast change is announced as part of the “turn off our cell phones” speech before the curtain goes up. But Tuesday, these substitutions in the two lead roles were communicated by the touring company only by a sign in the lobby, which probably escaped the notice of many in the near-capacity crowd of about 1,900. Those actresses deserved better. And the audience deserved to be more clearly informed about whom they were paying to see. Where’s a nun with a ruler when you need one?

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