The mega-successful Whoopi Goldberg movie vehicle from 1992 (and the sequel in 1993) has a whole new get-down-tonight, 1970s vibe for the stage musical "Sister Act the Musical," which is coming to the Broward Center Dec. 18-30 in a road tour of the Broadway show.
"I have always wanted to do a musical with psychedelic soul, funk and disco," explains Alan Menken, the show's composer and the go-to-guy for Disney musicals "Beauty and the Beast," "Tangled" and "Enchanted." "And there are all those styles we love in the '70s. What could be more perfect than the sound of the convent and disco?"
The story has a new beat, but it's essentially the same. Disco-diva wannabe Deloris Van Cartier witnesses a murder, so the police place her in protective custody in the one place none of her gangster associates will think to look for her: a convent. Now in deep cover disguised as a nun, Deloris clashes with the rigid rules of the Mother Superior but also whips the choir into shape and fills the church with new life.
"I first saw it in London, and it was apparent that this was a musical comedy where the music was of a major-league caliber," says Jerry Zaks, who directed the 2011 Broadway version after Goldberg — signed on as a producer — premiered the show in the West End in 2009. "I had seen the movie the night before I flew over to London. Then, I saw the show and decided to get involved. It was the music from the stage version and the basic story from the film that appealed to me. The story for me was about the inevitability of tolerance. If we spend enough time with people who are different from us, all the superficial differences fade away."
But the show needed tinkering before coming stateside. "I felt that the storytelling was not up to snuff," Zaks says. "I needed someone as smart and funny as Douglas Carter Beane [who "doctored" the show's book] to help finish the puzzle."
Menken adds: "When Whoopi came on board, some things in the score made her wince. She said, 'You've got to change that. They're acting too street black and that is too offensive.' Everybody's sensibility is different."
With eight Oscars ("they're in my studio in an awards cabinet around a video screen. I'm looking at them now") and credits that include "Little Shop of Horrors," "Newsies and "Aladdin," Menken has collaborated with a who's-who of lyricists, including Tim Rice, Howard Ashman and Stephen Schwartz. For "Sister Act," he re-teamed with Glenn Slater, with whom he worked on "Home on the Range" and "The Little Mermaid."
"We also worked on 'Tangled' together and more recently on 'Leap of Faith,' " Menken says. "As long as the other person is experienced and relatively sane, it generally works. If they are not physically threatening me, then we can get along. Every lyricist I have clicked with is someone who brought something to the table that is unique. I clicked with Glenn very quickly. I love talent and the man is very talented and funny."
Zaks says the original score — as opposed to the pop covers used in the films — makes the music "much more critical to the storytelling. It served us very well. I know people who came to see the show expecting to hear the music in the movie who were pleasantly surprised by the score."
Sister Act the Musical
When: Dec. 18-30; 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays (7:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 23); matinees at 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays (and Wednesday, Dec. 26)
Where: Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 S.W. Fifth Ave., Fort Lauderdale
Contact: 954-462-0222 or BrowardCenter.org