BWW Review: SISTER ACT THE MUSICAL at InterACT Theatre is Fabulous, Baby!
This past weekend, interACT Theatre Productions presented 'Sister Act The Musical' at The Baird Community Center in South Orange, New Jersey. The musical is based on the 1992 film starring Whoopi Goldberg, Maggie Smith and Kathy Najimy. The musical, written by Cheri & Bill Steinkellner, opened on Broadway in 2011 and closed after 561 performances. Although the musical does not utilize songs from the film, the musical score is comprised of both fun and heartwarming songs with music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Glenn Slater.
The musical has an enthralling plot. After witnessing her boyfriend, Curtis Jackson, commit murder, lounge singer Deloris Van Cartier is placed under protective custody in a convent where she has a hard time fitting in. She soon finds herself coaching the out of tune church choir and turns them into a big success. While incognito as a nun, Deloris helps the sisters break out of their shells and gets them singing and dancing like they never have before, much to Mother Superior's disapproval. After Deloris' boyfriend finds her hideout, the nuns band together to protect their newest sister.
This production, directed by Nicholas J. Clarey, played to a packed house in the 70-seat theater. After witnessing the Broadway production, I was curious as to how they would be able to pull off such a huge show in such a small space. After speaking with director Nicholas J. Clarey, he affirmed that was his biggest challenge, but with the creative minds and hard work of the set designer, set construction manager and lighting designer, the small space transformed from a night club, to a police station, then to a convent and so much more right before our eyes. Beautifully lit staiNed Glass was projected behind the walls of the set for the church scenes and then darkened for other scenes. A circular turntable that was constructed was used for Deloris and her backup singers in the nightclub and then later used for her new and improved Sunday Morning Mass with the nuns.
This cast was full of talent and energy and it was very obvious that they loved performing this show. They had the audience laughing and dancing in their seats, but also tugged at our heartstrings during the emotional songs. After the show, the cast did a tribute to the film's 25th anniversary by singing a medley of songs from the movie.
Tasha R. Williams says that she was inspired by her character Deloris Van Cartier. "Everything about Deloris is inspiring... she goes for her dreams... her commitment toward the end to sacrifice herself for her sisters...and she's a lot of fun," Williams said. The actress also mentioned that she was inspired by Whoopi Goldberg's interpretation of the character in the film.
RoseMary Wall who portrays the rigid Mother Superior, said it was easy to tap into her character as she is a mother of 4 children. "I channeled all of those protective instincts that a mother has... and Mother Superior is trying to keep things as they are and it's not out of harshness, it's because she thinks that's how she can keep her family safe." Wall said "I hope the audience takes away the message of the value of embracing diversity, appreciating differences and allowing them to enrich us..."
"Villains are always more fun," said Jim Coe while speaking about his character Curtis Jackson, "I love discovering what drives villains, but Curtis is the complete opposite of who I am. I'm a cheerleader backstage." He also spoke about his love for the film and about one of their last rehearsals before the show opened. "I was sitting there watching the cast perform 'Raise Your Voice' and I started to well up with tears, it wasn't anything overly emotional, but I'm watching my friends, people I love having fun and that's a beautiful thing."
During the show, the band is situated behind the stage. Music Director Holland J. Jancaitis said "It's a really, really fun score...some of the vocal arrangements are tricky... but we are very lucky that we have strong singers."
The audience was transported back in time to the '70's with the help of Choreographer Dana P. Hawkins who has been a dancer for 19 years. "I know both movies, Sister Act 1 and 2, front and back and I've always been a big fan of Whoopi Goldberg. I always look up to her professionally." Hawkins did research on popular dance moves from the 70's and incorporated them into the show. "Nuns are very stoic, very reserved and here Deloris comes in showing them everything...You'll see the 'Bus Stop' in there, 'The Hustle' in there... It was so much fun!"
One of the many unsung heroes from backstage is Stage Manager Amanda Wingo of Union High School. The show's lighting and sound cues, scene transitions and so much more wouldn't be possible without her. "Sometimes I had to run rehearsals and I had never called an entire show before which was a big responsibility, but it was something that I was excited to take on because it meant that I would grow more as a professional," Wingo stated. "A lot of people don't really realize all of the hard work that goes into building the sets, making sure the music and lights are running... everything is super important because without those people backstage there would be nothing for the actors to play on." The 17-year-old also stated she plans on pursuing directing.
Director Nicholas J. Clarey stated 'It was a very large undertaking... but one of the things I think we do really well as a company, is squeezing giant things onto this tiny little stage." When speaking about his cast, Clarey said "The diversity of a cast is not always easy to come by, but we've actually been really lucky this past year or so, our diversity has really started to widen." When asked what he hopes audiences learn from this show, Clarey said "I've always been a big fan of believing that you can learn something from everybody regardless of what your differences are... and it's embodied in the story... you have two women (Deloris and Mother Superior) who are stuck in their ways but they really can learn something from each other."
Sister Act the Musical has 5 more performances. 5/12-5/14, 5/19-5/20.
Friday and Saturday night performances begin at 7:30pm, and the Sunday matinees begins at 4:00pm.
Online tickets are discounted at $22 for Adults and $18 for Seniors/Students at interactproductions.tix.com until 2 hours prior to the performance. All tickets purchased at the box office in person are $25.
5 Mead Street South Orange, New Jersey
Photo Credit: Sabrina Santoro