|The Cast of "Sister Act"|
(photo: Roger S. Duncan)
Picture the famous Radio City Rockettes in their signature kick line, but costumed as nuns, and you have the essence of the musical “Sister Act”. Based on the popular 1992 film, brought to Broadway in 2011 after its initial London run, it's the second production of the current season of shows by Maine State Music Theatre. The Broadway version was nominated for five Tony Awards and ran over 500 performances. The plot follows the movie's basic concept of a lounge singer, an innocent accidental witness to a murder, hiding out in a protection plan from a gang of gangsters. If this synopsis sounds familiar, it's probably because it depends on the same basic plot conceit as that of the 1972 musical “Sugar” (based on a 1959 film,“Some Like It Hot”). This time, however, we're not in Chicago anymore, but the witness protection placement is in Philadelphia.....in a convent. The story, such as it is, follows the same basic plot of the film, with the addition of its enhanced lively Music by Alan Menken, predictable Lyrics by Glenn Slater, and threadbare Book by Cheri and Bill Steinkellner (with additional book material by Douglas Carter Beane). It's Menken's first score that's mostly disco, after his numerous successes with more traditional work in Disney films, though there are echos in the few ballads in this show of “Beauty and the Beast”. The show, while based on a Touchstone movie written by Joseph Howard for Disney, is not in fact a Disney-created adaptation. Despite these shortcomings, it's a surprisingly effective crowd-pleaser. Much of its impact is directly due to the amazingly detailed choreography (by Director Donna Drake) as performed by its hard-working, energetic cast.
That ensemble is led by the exquisitely talented Trista Dollison, who continually brings down the house as Delores Van Cartier, supported by the hilarious Charis Leos as Sister Mary Patrick. There are, in fact, quite a few wonderfully choreographed performances afoot, from the antics of St. Mary Martin-of-Tours (Jillian Jarrett) to St. Mary Theresa (Birdie Newman Katz), Sister Mary Robert (Cary Michele Miller) and Sister Mary Lazarus (April Woodall). Of course there's a turn or two from Msgr. O'Hara (David Girolmo) and solid work from the gangsters, with such mob monikers as Curtis Jackson (Kingsley Leggs, recreating his Broadway role), TJ (Nik Alexander), Joey (Jason Elliott) and Pablo (Brian Maurice Kinnard). There are standout characters such as Eddie Souther or “Sweaty Eddie” (Jay McKenzie), who executes an awe-inspiring triple quick change, and Mother Superior ( the beautifully-voiced Mary Jo McConnell). The Musical numbers, many of them interchangeable, include such titles as “Take Me to Heaven”, “Here Within These Walls”, “It's Good to Be a Nun”, “Raise Your Voice”, “Sunday Morning Fever”, “The Life I Never Led”, “Haven't Got a Prayer”, and, believe it or not, “Bless Our Show”. The songs are all terrifically delivered, but it's the choreographed movement that is this show's strongest asset. Mention should also be made of the striking Set Design by Charles S. Kading, unforgettable Costume Design by Jeff Hendry, and effective Lighting Design by Jeffrey Koger. The Sound Design by Brett Rothstein, a bit heavy on the volume, experienced some difficulties which were easily overcome by Dollison's suddenly unamplified but searingly emotional work, ironically producing the most moving moment of the entire production.
At the close of the show there was a well-earned and enthusiastic standing ovation, but all through it, the audience seemed in heaven, mirroring the point in the show where the re-energized nuns get a published review: “If you see only one Roman Catholic Mass this season....”, and the twice-repeated admonition, “God has put you here for a reason....take the hint”. So do take the hint and fill a pew for this devilishly angelic show. It's bound to put a dimple in your wimple.