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BWW Review: SISTER ACT Delights as the Opening Show of the 2016 Porthouse Season

Roy Berko

(Member, American Theatre Critics Association, Cleveland Critics Circle)

What happens when a new musical opens at the prestigious Pasadena Playhouse in California and becomes the highest grossing show ever at that venue? Obviously, it is grabbed up by a Broadway producer who opens it on the Great White Way. Right? Wrong!

The tale of the success of the musical, Sister Act, has a strange path from California to Broadway. After the Pasadena success in 2006, the show played in Atlanta. Then, in 2009, it went across the pond and opened in London to mixed reviews, including one which, with British subtleness, referred to it as "a brainless show."

After a sidetrack in Hamburg, yes, Germany, Sister Act finally opened on Broadway in 2011. It was a newly revised adaptation, which included a slightly different song list than the Brit or Pasadena versions.

Strongly praising the tunes of songwriter Alan Menken and lyricist Glenn Slater, which has the harkenings of Motown with a blend of soul and funk, and a little disco thrown in, the show was praised for its ability to "switch up the mood and tempo."

The results? Five Tony nominations, a successful run, and a much praised North American Tour, which graced the State Theatre stage in March of 2013. Now the script has been released for local productions. Its regional premiere is gracing the Porthouse stage.

The musical is based on the 1992 comedy film of the same name, which starred Whoopi Goldberg, who, interestingly enough, was the producer of the Broadway production.

The musical, like the movie, concerns Deloris Van Cartier, a street-smart African American singer "wanna be," who sees Curtis, her boyfriend shoot a man. She goes to the police and reunites with Sgt. "Sweaty Eddie," who had a crush on her when they were in high school. Fearing for her life he places Deloris in protective custody in a broke, soon to be closed church/convent.

The Mother Superior (perfectly portrayed by Tracee Patterson), comes from the mold of nuns of old. Yes, those fearsome enforcers of strict rules, who wielded punishing yardsticks, and gave lesser human beings the evil eye. The purveyors of such wisdom as "don't wear patent leather shoes because they reflect up," "don't go on a date to a restaurant with white tablecloths because it will remind the boy of bed sheets," "red clothing incites passion," and "don't wear makeup as it entices the devil."

When Deloris arrives at the mother house, she and Mother Superior are immediately placed in a battle of wills.

Of course, Deloris stirs up the cloistered place, makes the quiet nuns into singing rebels, saves the convent, becomes wimple-buddies with the Mother Superior, and wins Eddie in the process.

Songs such as "It's Good to Be a Nun," "When I Find My Baby," "Raise Your Voice," and "Take Me to Heaven," while not classics, are good Broadway fare. The cast can really sing well. The choreography is fun.

Though she could have "copped" a little more attitude, Colleen Longshaw is "Fabulous, Baby!" as Deloris. Tyrell Reggins wails as Eddie, displaying a strong singing voice and a charming attitude, especially in "I Could Be That Guy."

There are some nice characterizations, including Katelyn Langwith as Sister Mary Robert, a young novice who isn't yet "sold on the program" who is influenced by Deloris. Langwith's presentation of "The Life I Never Led" is a tender probe into what happens when life limits your options.

Hannah Quinn is delightful as the uninhibited Sister Mary Patrick. Terri Kent, yes, the Artistic Director of Porthouse, is amusing and has a great time as the straight-laced Sister Mary Lazarus. Bernadette Hisey is a hoot as Sister Mary Martin-of-Tours, the totally "out of it" member of the sisterhood. Rohn Tomas does a nice turn as Monsignor O'Hara.

Of course, as in any good escapist musical, there have to be showstoppers. Sister Act is full of them. "Sunday Morning Fever," "Raise Your Voice," "Fabulous Baby," and the title song, "Sister Act" all get the audience excited.

Yes, there are flaws. The gangsters aren't "gangsta" enough. The plot is full of plausible holes. But, in the end, the show is fun, it's a perfect choice for summer entertainment in the lovely Porthouse Theatre, on the grounds of the magnificent Blossom Center.

The supporting cast is all excellent. Many play multiple roles with ease.

Jennifer Korecki has her musicians in good tune and support rather than drown out the performers.

The technical aspects of the show, including the abundance of costumes, are all done well.

Oh, be aware that due to a wonderful fund-raising effort by Terri Kent, the entire washroom building has been redone. Yes, ladies...no long standing in a long line at intermission!

Well, almost wonderful fund-raising effort. There is still a need for more funds. Besides dropping in donations when the "altar-boys" come around during one of the show's "church services," donations can be sent on line at GiveToKent.org (designate the gift to "Porthouse Theatre 50th Anniversary Fund 18802" or send a check to College of the Arts, Attn: Pam Hutson, P.O. Box 5190, Taylor Hall, Kent, OH 44242.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: Sister Act is a perfect slice of summer entertainment placed in a lovely get-away setting! Director Eric van Baars has put together a smooth running production which gets all the necessary laughs, develops the story line as well as one can with something as fluffy as he has been given, and paces the show so that it moves smoothly along. See it!

Sister Act runs until July 2, 2016 at Porthouse Theatre. For reasonably priced tickets call 330-672-3884 or go online to www.porthousetheatre.com.

NEXT UP AT PORTHOUSE: RING OF FIRE, in which music legend Johnny Cash comes to life, from July 7-23, 2016 and FOOTLOOSE, which proves that dancing is a fun part of life, from July 28-August 14, 2016. Curtain times are 8 PM Tuesdays through Saturdays and 2 PM Sundays. The picnic grounds at Blossom open 90 minutes prior to curtain time.

Photo Credit: Andrew Eicher Photography


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