by Doug Iden
Sister Act explodes onto the Covedale stage resounding with joy and ebullience.
Self-absorbed and career driven night club singer Deloris Van Cartier (Tia Seay) witnesses her boss/supposed boyfriend Curtis (Jazz McMullen) kill a man whom he suspects has informed about his criminal activities to the police. Deloris runs to the local police station where she encounters her old high school friend Eddie Souther (William Gibson) who still has a crush on her. Eddie recommends that Deloris enter witness protection and suggests a local poverty-stricken convent as sanctuary.
This ongoing societal and philosophic culture clash underpins the ongoing drama and comedy in the show. Religiously conservative Mother Superior (Michell Shaffer) opposes the idea of hiding the fugitive and is aghast at Deloris. Mother Superior wants “nun” of it but is persuaded by Eddie to relent. She introduces Deloris (now renamed Sister Mary Clarence) to the other nuns.
Deloris’ glitzy but shallow life immediately clashes with the austere, conservative convent life of prayer, passivity and lousy food. Deloris rebels, setting up a continuing conflict with the Mother Superior.
The salvation comes when Deloris agrees to help with the choir, much to the chagrin of choir leader Sister Mary Lazarus (Lysha Ingle). Monsignor O’Hara (John Langley) is pleased that the choir is “in tune” and more people are attending Mass.
Deloris has two primary advocates in Sisters Mary Patrick (Clare Hingsbergen who plays an extravert who often is out of control) and postulate Sister Mary Robert (Hayley Warfel) who is mousy, withdrawn and totally unsure of herself. The relationship between these three form the heart of the story.
This is a tale of life changing experiences fashioned by the friendship, love and the redemption of everyone.
The large cast sings the songs of Alan Menken (a mixture of jazz, gospel, disco, Motown, rap and ballads) clever lyrics of Glenn Stater very well. Seay (as Deloris) opens with a “Supremes-like” nightclub song (along with Peyton Wright and Elizabeth Leigh Taylor) called “Take Me To Heaven” which Deloris later uses as the cornerstone for the church choir’s success. Seay excels as Deloris, both with singing, personality and a believable character arc from selfish to loving. Shaffer (Mother Superior) agonizes over the changes she sees in “Here Within These Walls” and later admits that “I Haven’t Got a Prayer”. In her “coming of age” song, Warfel (Sister Mary Robert) longs for “The Life I Never Lead”.
There is a lot of comedy propelled by numerous songs including “When I Find My Baby” when McMullen (Curtis) conjures up ways to kill Deloris. Curtis later tells his henchmen (R. DeAndre Smith, Christopher Wells and William Boatwright) to capture Deloris by dressing up as nuns. The henchmen respond in the delightful “Lady in the Long Black Dress”. All of the nuns and Deloris blend in the riotous gospel songs “Raise Your Voice”, “Spread the Love Around” and “Sister Act” sung initially as a solo by Deloris.
All of the singing is excellent including the remaining chorus nun members including Carly Shepherd, Katie McCarthy, Cassidy Steele, Elizabeth Pille, Kelsey Schwarber, Allyson van Haaren with Justin Reilmann and Nick Godfry.
Brett Bowling’s set combines the nightclub stage with the convent interior including the usual assortment of props. The direction by Dee Anne Bryll and stage management by Holly Mills orchestrate the constant movement, dancing and costume changes of the cast. Co-Choreographers Jay and Jenny Goodlett use constant motion and Motown style dancing while singing to good effect.
Another highlight is the costuming by Joy and Liz Galbraith. Deloris and co-singers first appear in glitzy spangled dresses with the gangsters in appropriate garb. The traditional convent dress is habitually apt but is later accessorized by red, blue and gold.
This show is fun, exuberant and entertaining with excellent singing dancing and acting. There also is enough dramatic meat and social commentary to satisfy everyone. So, grab that ugly Disco outfit and boogey on down to the Covedale Theater for Sister Act running through November 13. The next production is A Christmas Carol running from December 1 through 23.
Doug Iden is an avid, lifelong theater fan with an extensive collection of original cast albums. He also teaches classes on musical theater at OLLI (Osher Lifelong Learning Institute).