Updated: Jun 20, 2020
"...a little touch of absolute heaven!"
When aspiring disco singer Deloris Van Cartier is placed in protective custody in a dying convent, her unique brand of funk comes face-to-face with the traditions of the church. Sometimes old habits are hard to change. Sometimes not!
But who could resist the vision of a stage full of saintly sisters flaring their gams in unison like the Rockettes, or swiveling their hips, Supremes style, to the silken beat of an R&B tune? Presumably, nobody in the audience at Golden West College’s Theater Arts Mainstage, where their latest production of “Sister Act” opened last Friday night. Based on the Touchstone motion picture, also titled “Sister Act,” and directed and choreographed by Martie Ramm (Broadway’s “Evita,” London’s “A Chorus Line”), the musical is set to run through November 18th. Director Ramm’s impressive resume includes many regional shows, Walt Disney theatrical projects, and she is currently a Professor/Director/Choreographer in the Theater Arts Department at Golden West College.
Film-to-musical stage adaptations don’t always translate to compelling musical values, but in this case, the music is by the resplendent Alan Menken, one of the most successful composers for the stage and screen. Menken teamed with lyricist Glenn Slater (also collaborators on the stage version of “The Little Mermaid”) to render a tuneful original score of lush funk grooves, designed for a cast of strong singers.
The creative team had bumped the story back in time, shifting the action from present-day San Francisco to 1970s Philadelphia – all about that sweet Philly soul sound, with a dose of disco. The male roles conveyed songs that elicited styles from The O'Jays, The Spinners, The Stylistics and Lou Rawls, while the females channeled The Three Degrees, Patti LaBelle and Donna Summer. This production works hard to make us shout “Hallelujah,” especially Ms. Haze, who is amply blessed with powerhouse vocals, solid comedic timing and plenty of Donna Summer, Tina Turner, Beyoncé and Whoopi Goldberg all rolled into one character.
Nominated for five Tony Awards in 2011, with a book by Cheri and Bill Steinkellner, the musical follows the adventures of Deloris (Imani Haze) as a lounge singer who unintentionally becomes a witness to a murder by her notorious gangster boyfriend, Curtis (Mark Torres). To keep her alive, the police stow her in a rather straight-laced convent on the verge of closing under the guise of new recruit Sister Mary Clarence. At first, Deloris is chafing against the constraints of convent life, not to mention an immovable Reverend Mother, but once she is introduced to the struggling choir at the convent, she finds another calling – directing the tone-deaf group of nuns to bring about some revelation in the floundering church.
Along the way, Deloris clashes frequently with the unwavering Mother Superior (Megan Cherry) while still being pursued by her cocky, bygone friend Curtis, but simultaneously protected by police officer “Sweaty” Eddie, who has been sweet on her since high school. Ms. Haze and Ms. Cherry are not only droll but have great melodramatic tension (Mother Superior’s “Here Within These Walls” “I Haven’t Got a Prayer”) as they face off on differences of opinion, balanced by scene stealer Eddie (Marcus Veyette, 2018 Varsity Arts Artist of the Year Nominee) in his solo, “I could be that guy,” a marvelous song played alternately to comic and confident effect, featuring remarkable dance moves and some impressive tear-away costumes.
But Imani Haze isn’t the only up and coming “sister” in this production. Hilarious one-liners mix with marvelous lyrics, delightfully irreverent passages and copious amounts of energy, resulting in quite a few standouts. Ally Teeples astonishes as the shy, soft-spoken Sister Mary Robert, a postulant who was abandoned as a baby and raised at the convent. Her wallflower lifestyle has made her live a shell of a life, but with Deloris’ coaching, she strikes just the right balance between longing for more, standing up for herself and finding joy in what she has. Ms. Teeples nearly steals the second act with “The Life I Never Led.” She has a natural grace on stage and knows how to spinto belt with the best. Between her number and Ms. Haze’s “Sister Act” number, the second act eclipses and touches the heavens.
Sister Mary Patrick (Sharon Rae Massey) is consistently perky, enthusiastic, easily excitable and so much fun to watch. She lets her freak flag fly in several group numbers, such as “Raise Your Voice,” “Take Me to Heaven” and “Bless Our Show.” Sister Mary Lazarus (Sarah Cabrera), head of the choir, comes off at first rather deadpan, but gets caught up in Deloris's soul music and has a number of amusing scenes. Monsignor O'Hara (Jay Harbison, “South Pacific,” “Grease,” “Godspell”) who was mostly concerned with financial matters, had accepted the fact the parish is closing until Deloris got there, then her soul music surprisingly turned him into a smooth, hip master of ceremonies.
Sister Mary Martin-of-Tours (Tricia Campbell, “The Music Man,” “Annie”) is clearly operating in her own little world, but has her moments of surprising clarity which enthralls the audience. Sister Mary Theresa (Carrie Vinikow, “Evita,” “Dracula”) is the oldest of the group of nuns, and although decrepit looking at first glance, secretly packs a punch. Michelle (also Tricia Campbell) and Tina (Maggie Underwood), the somewhat naïve and lippy backup singers for Deloris’ former life and featured in the first two numbers, “Take Me to Heaven” and “Fabulous, Baby” are both decked out in long blonde hair and quintessential paisley jump suits from the 70’s.
The score as a whole has a splendid musical arc, one largely absent from its Hollywood birth. It gives the talented cast many opportunities to scintillate with many of them having superb moments in the spotlight. As the story progresses, it all gets kicked up a notch with an ever-increasing stream of over-the-top numbers and dances. Curtis and his trio of lackeys are brilliant in two delicious villain songs, “When I Find My Baby,” and in Act II, the comedy skit “Lady in the Long Dress,” both with very clever lyrics by Glenn Slater (best known for “Tangled”). The three provide much comedy relief as TJ, Curtis’ nephew, who is constantly in a state of ignorant bliss, Joey, who is totally convinced of his prowess as a ladies man, and Pablo, who only communicates in Spanish.
Additional ensemble players are Jasmine Benaza, Drew Delallana, Marina Garcia, Madeleine Lyon, Kaitlyn Lueke, Sophia Mesman, Maggie Underwood, Maya Valenciano, Ruby Wilson, Daniel Kelly, Amy Le, Julian Rosenberg and Cecily Rye. Sarah Cabrera serves as Mother Superior understudy, Ms. Valenciano is understudy for Sister Mary Robert. Ms. Lyon understudies Sister Mary Patrick, and Ms. Garcia for Sister Mary Lazarus. And hats off to the unfortunate Ernie (Julian Rosenberg), who was one of Curtis’s henchmen, but secretly an undercover cop and gets popped within the first few minutes of the show.
Scenic Design is by Tim Mueller, Costumes by Jojo Siu, Makeup, Wig and Hair is by Laura Hughes. Lighting Design is supervised by Crystal Shomph, Sound by Dave Mickey and the Stage Manager is Brigham Hughes. Musical Director and Conductor is Rick Heckman, and Technical Director is Terry Otto.
This show is Highly, Highly Recommended! There are four performances remaining for this November 15th, 16th, 17th at 7:30pm and the 18th at 2pm. For ticket information, please visit http://www.gwctheater.com/
“…Filled with powerful gospel music, outrageous dancing and a truly moving story, Sister Act is a sparkling tribute to the universal power of friendship.”
National Youth Arts
The Show Report