Sharon Grabowski & Erica Yoletta Goodman in Sister Act. Photo: RPA
Music by Alan Mencken, lyrics by Glenn Slater
Book by Cheri & Bill Steinkellner, additional book material by Douglas Carter Beane
Based on the Touchstone motion picture written by Joseph Howard
Directed & designed by Alonzo Ramont
A review by Keith Waits
Entire contents are copyright © 2022 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
Only a few months after a successful run of Nunsense from another local theater company comes the first local production of Sister Act, a hugely successful musical based on the hit Whoppi Goldberg movie released in 1992.
Because who doesn’t love singing nuns? Whether Sister Act will come to replace Nunsense as the go-to singing nun comedy perennial for community theatres remains to be seen, but I’m taking odds because it is a blast.
The large cast and expansive score demand a director like Alonzo Ramont, who knows how to move so many bodies around the stage with intention and impact. His judgment in choosing choreographers also serves him well, and Kavin Moore keeps the ensemble dancing in good form and with inexhaustible energy.
As far as I can recall, it follows the plot of the movie pretty closely. Club singer Deloris Van Cartier (Erica Yoletta Goodman) witnesses her gangster boyfriend Curtis (Derek Palmer) kill a disloyal underling. She is willing to testify so Lt. Eddie Souther (Lamont O’Neil) hides her in Little Sisters of Our Mother of Perpetual Faith, a Catholic convent under the rule of Mother Superior (Sharon Grabowski). Deloris chafes in the restrictive environment until she stumbles into the role of new choir director and the sister act really takes off in bursts of Gospel/R&B, unlike any Catholic hymns you have ever heard.
The rejuvenated choir makes headlines and saves the financial misfortunes of the convent, much to the horror of Mother Superior but to the delight of the Monsignor (William Strauss), who is one of the least uptight priests in theatre history.
The design work is lean and economical, a veil of flash for the early club sequences falls away to reveal the aging convent, and the costumes are a perfect style, even if a couple seems not quite the right fit, and clothing more than a dozen women as nuns must not have been easy, but they pull it off. All of the design work is credited to multi-hyphenate Ramont.
Casting begins with Erica Yoletta Goodman as Deloris. I’ve heard Goodman’s powerful voice before, so I expected her to handle the music with aplomb, but she also proves an adept comedy actor, with good timing and instincts for capturing the moment, and gives enough conviction to the pathos. Goodman’s onstage presence easily fills the room and brings the audience to her.
Sharon Grabowski makes for a solid Mother Superior, even if we know immediately that Deloris will melt her steely reserve. Part of that comes from this being a predictable aspect of the plot, but Grabowski shows the humanity behind the strict attitudes from the beginning.
Lamont O’Neal has experience playing Lt. Souther on the national tour and takes up the role again with great verve. That confidence was undermined by a faulty microphone at the performance I attended, but his singing still came across and the detail of his comic characterization was crowd-pleasing. (“I Could Be That Guy”)
Other highlights among the large ensemble include Kristy Calman’s sarcastic Sister Mary Lazarus (a hoot), Mimi Housewright’s addlepated non-sequitur spouting Mary Martin of Tours, and Marianne Zickuhr’s wide-eyed innocent Sister Mary Patrick.
Derrick Palmer brings a big man’s swagger and a nasty edge to bad man Curtis and is aided by a motley trio of gunsels: Noah Nehemiah Robinson, Daniel Riddlesmith, and Javon Vanlier. Like Palmer, Robinson sports a 1970s afro wig that gets its own laughs, but he sings, moves and earns laughs with skill, as does Riddlesmith, and Vanlier is an almost impossibly fluid dancer whose every action slides gracefully about the stage. When Curtis sings about what he will do to Deloris in, “When I Find My Baby”, he and his crew bring the house down.
Ramont manages to pull this large cast into a unity of purpose that translates into joy onstage and generosity from the audience. Ramont also works the curtain speech better than anyone, unabashedly eliciting camaraderie and financial support from attendees even before they have been so impressed by what happens onstage. All of that energy is infectious and forges a connection between the members of the company and every other human in the space, which is nothing less than an extension of the covenant between viewer and performer that is the pure essence of theatre. Sister Act gives you everything you require in the way of entertainment, but Redline Performing Art also delivers a profound sense of community in every production.
Featuring Cicily Bullard, Kristy Calman, Sheree Edmonds, Carmen Gardner, Erica Yoletta Goodman, Sharon Grabowski, Louise Hopson, Mimi Housewright, Rachel Molly, Adrianna Offutt, Lamont O’Neal, Derrick Palmer, Colette Priddy, Tymika Prince, Cierra Richmond, Daniel Riddlesmith, Noah Nehemiah Robinson, Elizabeth Ruwe, David Jair Simon, William Strauss, Ann-Morgan Tyler-Heath, Javon Vanlier, Rachel Vidal, Meghan Voigt, Seprecia White, Shauntrice Wilson, Jill Wright, Marianne Zickuhr
August 26, 27, & 28, 2022
Redline Performing Arts
1628 West Market Street
Louisville, KY 40202
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of LVA’s Artebella On The Radio on WXOX 97.1 FM / ARTxFM.com, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in LEO Weekly, Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.