This show, based on the guilty-pleasure film series starring Whoopi Goldberg, was apparently successful enough to be brought over from London, but it doesn’t even live up to the mildly amusing film on which it was based.
Granted, one thing about the show worked quite well. Alan Menken’s score is excellent, with its disco-gospel showstoppers (“Take Me To Heaven”, “Raise Your Voice”, “Sunday Morning Fever”, “Spread the Love Around”) serving as a fine substitute for the repurposed classic R&B tunes from the film. And the big ballads (the title-song and “The Life I Never Led”) are vintage Menken, lovely and full of emotion.
But the witless book, with its heavy slapstick and stupid one-liners, did the show no favors. Worse, the comedy numbers are as stupid as the book, such as the obvious “When I Find My Baby” for the villain or the idiotic “How I Got the Calling” for the supporting nuns. But the show’s biggest problem is that the entire movie is built around one joke—the inherent absurdity of Whoopi Goldberg’s already-familiar performing persona as a nun. Patina Miller, who played the lead in this show on both sides of the Atlantic, has a great voice and certainly doesn’t lack for sex appeal, but she’s not Whoopi Goldberg, and that alone pretty much kills the only funny thing about the story. It’s doubtful it could ever really be funny with anyone other than Goldberg, but if it were, it would have to be with someone else who had a clearly-established persona that was already familiar to the audience. Just putting a sexy R&B singer in a convent isn’t automatically funny, and neither the movie nor the show has much else to draw on.
On top of this, there’s already an entire series of musicals based on this same basic conception (that Nuns are inherently funny) that actually make the joke work…they’re called Nunsense. Granted, the Nunsense musicals aren’t exactly great works of literature themselves, but at least the jokes in them actually land and are cleverer than the schlock on display here. We didn’t really need a bigger-budget knockoff of a show that was already the third longest-running off-Broadway show of all time, and even with all the flashy Broadway glitz this show was showered in, Nunsense did it first and Nunsense did it better.