Theatre Reviews
Photo by Phillip Hamer courtesy of The Muny

By Joanne Fistere

“Sister Act” with music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Glenn Slater, book by Bill and Cheri Steinkellner, premiered on Broadway in 2011 garnering multiple Tony and Drama Desk award nominations, but winning none. Based on the 1992 film, “Sister Act” tells the story of aspiring disco diva Deloris Van Cartier. Trying to work her way to the top in 1970s Philadelphia, Deloris witnesses her gangster boyfriend commit a murder.  She is put into witness protection in a convent whose parish has fallen on hard times. While struggling through the restrictions of her new lifestyle, she finds comfort in the church's choir and while there ends up inspiring the church and community. Of course, all goes awry when her gangster boyfriend and his thugs uncover her whereabouts and musical comedy hilarity ensues.

The Muny’s final offering of their 105th season is certainly a happy note to end on. Bryonha Marie as Deloris Van Cartier has the perfect combination of musical chops and star power to carry this production from soup to nuts. Mamie Parris does a lovely job as her opposite in the role of Mother Superior. Thom Sesma is hilarious as Monsignor O’Hara when he lets his “hair” down as the convent begins to succeed with all the newfound attention. And all of the action that takes place in the convent is staged and choreographed beautifully by Denis Jones. The ensemble of nuns is terrific and each one gives a stellar performance in their own right. The use of the stage turntable is especially effective noting the passage of time and the set design by Edward E. Haynes, Jr. is very well done and evocative of an aging cathedral. Here the LED projections, designed by Kevin Loney, add just the right hint of stained glass to the convent setting.

The action that takes place outside of the convent really shows off the costumes designed by Leon Dobkowski. Dobkowski does the 1970’s proud and the disco outfits for Deloris are wonderful, including her final one just for the curtain call.  Unfortunately, the projections go way too over the top in the musical number “Fabulous, Baby!” and once again distract from the singer and the song. Simply having the technology doesn’t mean you must utilize the technology, especially to the detriment of the art.

On the whole, the non-convent scenes come across as awkward and confusing. The opening montage, with Delores witnessing the murder and the subsequent chase scene is dull and amateurish. If Director Jones is going for scary or over the top broad comedy, he achieves neither. Other scenes, including the musical numbers featuring the gangsters and Eddie the cop, are also somewhat bland. However, Alan H. Green as Curtis Jackson, and Rob Colletti, Darron Hayes, and Brandon Espinoza as his henchmen, are all terrific performers and do well given the lackluster direction. James T. Lane as Eddie (you may remember him as Billy Flynn in “Chicago”) is also a tremendous talent and does a great job with a herculean costume change.

Overall the Muny’s final show of the season is a fun night out with a lot of feel good moments and laugh out loud camaraderie. The cast appear to be having a lovefest and spread it far and wide into the audience. Here’s to season 106 next year!

“Sister Act” at the Muny runs through August 20th. For tickets and information go the Muny website.

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