Tina Jo Wallace, Kayla Walsh, Jillian Prefach, Kaylee Annable, & Khadijah Amanee in Sister Act. Photo courtesy Derby Dinner Playhouse.
Sister Act: A Divine Musical Comedy
Music by Alan Menken, Lyrics by Glenn Slater
Book by Cheri and Bill Steinkellner
Directed by Lee Buckholz
Review by Annette Skaggs
Entire contents copyright © 2017 Annette Skaggs. All rights reserved.
There is a good chance that you’ve seen the movie on which this Broadway show is based: Sister Act, starring Whoopi Goldberg, Kathy Najimi and Dame Maggie Smith. The Broadway version does not veer too far away from the movie plot and the few songs in the original movie are not found in the stage presentation. That’s okay. When you have the skill set of Alan Menken and Glenn Slater writing, you are going to get something memorable, and Sister Act: a Divine Musical Comedy certainly delivers.
Deloris Van Cartier (Khadijah Amancee), a Philadelphia nightclub singer dating mobster/club owner Curtis Jackson (Timothy Bittle), is anticipating a chance to meet with a record executive Christmas Eve, but is instead given a used fur coat from Curtis’ wife. After storming off from the club she comes back to apologize, but unintentionally sees Curtis and his cronies kill a person who had squealed on them.
Deloris quickly runs to the police and the detective she meets with is an old high school friend of hers, Lt. Eddie Southers, affectionately referred to as “Sweaty Eddie” (Andrew Coleman). Eddie insists that Deloris go into hiding through Witness Protection and sends her to a nearby convent, with the belief that Curtis would never look for her there.
As the convent is on the verge of closure, Monsignor O’Hara (Clay Smith) impresses upon Mother Superior (Jillian Prefach) how much Queen of Angels Cathedral can use the monies that the police department is giving them to keep Deloris cloistered, and she reluctantly agrees (“Here Within There Walls”). Upon meeting the other nuns of the convent under her given nun’s name, Sister Mary Clarence, Deloris realizes how much she is going to miss her outside life (“It’s Good To Be a Nun”) and sneaks out to a neighboring bar. Two of the nuns, Sister Mary Patrick (Kayla Walsh) and Sister Mary Robert (Kaylee Annable) follow her. As the nuns get a taste of life outside the convent, Deloris notices Curtis’ thugs and hurries back to the convent.
When Mother Superior learns of Sister Mary Clarence’s transgression she exploits her music background by assigning her the task of trying to better the church’s choir. Taking over the baton from Sister Mary Lazarus (Tina Jo Wallace), she transforms the once timid chorus into a global sensation (Raise Your Voice, Take Me to Heaven). Unfortunately, the notoriety captures the attention of Curtis’ men.
This particular production had some of the best singers that I have heard come through Derby Dinner Playhouse in recent years, from Mike D’Amico’s (Pablo) tenor that would have rivaled Frankie Valli’s highest notes, to the surprisingly smooth baritone of John Payonk (Joey). Tymika Prince and Sierra Stacy did great with double duty as Deloris’ back-up singers Michelle and Tina, respectively, as well two of the nuns. Chaz Coffin’s TJ was as smooth as the fur-lined blue jacket that is central to the story. His dance moves in platform shoes was fun to watch. Clay Smith as Monsignor O’Hara was a joy; his facial expressions alone can garner a smile. The whole ensemble worked quite well with one another.
Kayla Walsh’s Sister Mary Patrick is as much of a joy ride as Kathy Najimi made famous in the movie – optimistic, full of life and verve. Jillian Prefach certainly didn’t disappoint as Mother Superior as she sang confidently and acted as a perfect mother for her flock. Ah, Tina Jo, how I delighted in your Sister Mary Lazarus.
Andrew Coleman as Eddie was the quintessential nice guy character with a charming voice and 1970’s style swagger. Kaylee Annable’s Sister Mary Robert had just the right amount of timidity and fierceness. Despite the dark lyrics of “When I Find My Baby”, I could have listened to Timothe Bittle sing that all night long. He played the dashing bad boy with a wink and smile. As I was looking at Khadijah Amanee’s background I thought to myself that she should be a great pick for the Deloris Van Cartier role. Yes indeed she is. She embodied the role. With a large voice encased in a smaller frame, she’s a force.
Now, there were some problems: sometimes, when an actor is too loud, it is hard to hear/understand them. There were a couple of notes/lyrics that were stumbled upon, but unless you know the songs intimately, they were hardly noticeable.
Sharon Murray Harrah’s costume designs were delicious, albeit a tad overdone. But, this was set in the 1970’s, so, it fit the time period. Heather Paige Folsom’s choreography was delightful and accessible and did not distract from the singing too much, even when the full cast was on stage. Scenic Designer Lee Buckholz did well with minimal furniture/structural props, but I have to say, was the last version of the statue of the Mother Mary a little too much? One audience member thought so, but I’ll let the greater audience decide for themselves. Lighting by Alexa Holloway was perfect, as was the sound design by David Nelson.
While this is a pared down version of what the Broadway Series brought to Whitney Hall recently, it is not in any way less entertaining. In some ways, it is even more so, because of the more intimate setting.
I do have to mention one line that bothered me a little bit. Tina, Deloris’ back-up singer, observes upon Deloris’ receipt of the fur coat, “It looks like you killed a Smurf”. Tina must have been well versed in reading the French comic Johann and Peewit or Spirou magazine, as The Smurfs as we know them didn’t become internationally known until the 1980’s.
What a fun evening!!
Sister Act: A Divine Musical Comedy
April 12 – May 28, 2017
Derby Dinner Playhouse
525 Marriot Drive
Clarksville, IN 47129
Annette Skaggs is heavily involved as an Arts Advocate here in Louisville. She is a freelance professional opera singer who has performed throughout Europe and in St. Louis, Cincinnati, Boulder, Little Rock, Peoria, Chicago, New York and of course Louisville. Aside from her singing career, she has been a production assistant for Kentucky Opera, New York City Opera, and Northwestern University. Her knowledge and expertise have developed over the course of 25+ years’ experience in the classical arts.