When the highly entertaining musical comedy Sister Act, which has been a big hit in London, got a Broadway gig at the big (1,761-seat) Broadway Theatre it got a lot more. It got a new director. It got a sprucing up of its script with a host of new jokes. It got a different co-star for Patina Miller along with an entirely new cast, many playing roles with different names and different material. It got two new songs and dropped two others. What it didn’t get was a new recording.
Since there is already an “Original London Cast Recording” available, there apparently won’t be an “Original Broadway Cast Recording.” What a shame! Not since Billy Elliot has a musical opening on Broadway cried out for a new recording like this one does.
• We need a recording of Tony-nominated Victoria Clark in the role of Mother Superior.
• We need a recording of her rendition of the new number that is her second act applause gatherer, “Haven’t Got a Prayer.”
• What is more, we need a recording of her character’s first act big number, “Here Within These Walls” delivered in her voice. It’s nice that the song is captured on the London recording as sung by Sheila Hancock, but we still need a recording of the version Clark sings in the show which is quite different from the version on disc.
• We need a record of Marla Mindelle raising the roof at the top of “The Life I Never Led.” Her rendition on Broadway is so much more thrilling than the version of Katie Rowley Jones of the London cast.
• We need a recording of the new “It’s Good to Be a Nun” which has taken the slot of “How I Got The Calling” – they are completely different songs. (We can do without a new recording of “Do The Sacred Mass” which was dropped from the Broadway version. It wasn’t that good, anyway.)
But cast recordings don’t come into being because we think we need them. They come into being because the producers make a calculation of what is going to make a profit. Often, that means we get a recording not because the disc is expected to be a cash cow, but because its losses are an acceptable price for the marketing tool that an album is. An album spreads the news that the show has pleasures worth the price of a ticket (and that’s another story).
Since there is a completely successful spreader of that good news out there, the logic that supports spending the money on a completely new recording apparently isn’t carrying the day with the powers that be.
There are elements of the London recording that would eclipse any new recording of the original Broadway cast. Most notably, the work of Ako Mitchell in London as the sweat-challenged policeman who gets one big first act number in ‘I Could Be That Guy” is vocally much more satisfying than Chester Gregory who has the part on Broadway. On the other side of the coin, the Broadway song “It’s Good to Be a Nun” is musically less inventive and lyrically less playful than London’s “How I Got The Calling” which it replaces.
The recording we have, however, does make clear just how well Sister Act fits the description “A Musical Comedy.” Alan Menken’s music is thoroughly melodic using a variety of period-appropriate beats and sounds in the pastiche numbers that reflect the late 1970s blue-collar Philadelphia setting. Glenn Slater’s lyrics are witty, clever, consistent and eminently deliverable, meaning that they are crafted to let the singer deliver meaning along with melody. The London cast on this recording does exhibit the same attention to enunciation as the Broadway cast during a performance in the Broadway Theatre, which is to say quite a bit. With lyrics this good it is a pleasure to be able to follow them whether in the theatre or on the disc.
In the theatre you find that there are, as one expects these days from a musical comedy, laugh lines that also either convey character information or carry the plot forward. There are entertaining and exciting songs that get the audience jumping from the beat throughout the song or, alternatively, bursting into prolonged applause. The show tells its story with clarity and, while a few plot points are signaled so far ahead that you start to wonder when an expected event is really going to show up, the overall impact is to carry you through the evening quite smoothly. This is in no small part a credit to the contributions of both Victoria Clark and of Fred Applegate as the Monsignor who is taken by the sounds of the church’s choir under the influence of Patina Miller’s Delores Van Cartier – “That’s Cartier as in the jewelers!”
It is a shame that no audio cd can adequately convey the visual excitement of this production. Klara Zieglerova’s sets, Lez Brotherson’s costumes under Natasha Katz’s lights and Anthony Van Laast’s choreography are absent from the strictly aural recording. Ah, but that is just a reason for those who enjoy the recording to attempt to see the show in person.
The recording is at a higher volume level than most other cast records. It’s not that the music in the theatre is louder, although at least the Broadway incarnation bows to no one in the level of amplification applied. It is that the level on the disc is significantly louder, requiring the adjustment of your controls to make it fit with other recordings. If you happen to be in the habit of using the shuffle setting when you listen to your collection of show music, you’ll find that each time one cut from this album comes on, you’ll jump up to adjust the volume and then have to put it back to the original setting when the next song appears. This could be a pain.