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BWW Review: BWW REVIEWS: SHORT NORTH STAGE'S SISTER ACT at Garden Theater

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Musical puts nuns back where they belong ¬-- in the spotlight

BWW Review: BWW REVIEWS: SHORT NORTH STAGE'S SISTER ACT  at Garden Theater

Prior to BOOK OF MORMON's release in 2011, nuns were easily the most scrutinized religious organization in the entertainment industry. On Broadway, there's THE SOUND OF MUSIC, NUNSENSE, and AGNES OF GOD to name a few while Hollywood has given us a convent full of films with Sisters making appearances in a diverse array of movies including NUNS ON THE RUN, THE BLUES BROTHERS, DOUBT, DEAD MAN WALKING, and A CHANGE OF HABIT among others. There have been singing nuns, flying nuns, pregnant nuns, baby-delivering nuns, justice-seeking nuns, and Nazi-fighting nuns. Producers and directors, need an eccentric religious figure? Get ye to a convent.

Short North Stage is no exception, offering its audience the musical, SISTER ACT. The two-act, two-and-a-half-hour show will run Dec. 2. to Jan. 2 at the Garden Theater (1187 North High Street in downtown Columbus). Director Ed Carignan, choreographer Dionysia Williams, and musical director Que Jones give its audience a show featuring breathtaking performances, toe-tapping music, and strong writing.

The musical walks in the footsteps of the 1992 comedy of the same name. Whoopi Goldberg, the star of the movie version, helped produce the first run of the musical. After songstress Deloris Van Cartier (performed by Amber Knicole) witnesses a murder, the police put the struggling singer up in the last place gangsters would look: a convent. However, the street savvy, energetic performer can't stay out of the spotlight. The former cocktail lounge vocalist revamps the nuns' offkey choir into a tight revue which attracts the attention of everyone from the local press to His Holiness (Luke Bovenizer) to the mobsters trying to kill her.

In the show, curmudgeon Sister Mary Lazarus (the delightful Linda Kinnison Roth) asks Deloris whether she's an alto or a soprano and she responds, "Whatever you need." Knicole lives up to that mantra, offering up whatever each song requires. She covers a broad range of material from the ruckus "Fabulous, Baby" to a soulful duet with Chrissy T (Mother Superior) in the title song.

Knicole is surrounded with an amazing sisterhood of nuns including Chrissy T, Roth, Sydney Freihofer (Sister Mary Robert), Julie Russell (Sister Mary Patrick), Josie Merkle (Sister Mary Martin-of-Tours) and Lori Turner (Sister Mary Theresa) as well as ensemble nuns Jillian Christie, Gianna Colarich, Vera Ryan Cremeans, Lauren Drexel, Lisa Glover, Meredith Hanosek, KK Murphy, Mikaela Ray, Jillian Savage, and Alana Sayat.

Freihofer makes the astonishing transition of Sister Mary Robert from a mousey introvert to a self-confident woman finding a voice of her own in "The Life I Never Led." Chrissy T's turns what could be a cliché character into a flesh and blood person. If Knicole provides the show's soul and Freihofer delivers the heart, then her performance as Mother Superior is SISTER ACT's conscience.

The male actors in SISTER ACT aren't subservient participants. Joshua Walker plays "Sweaty" Eddie, Deloris' love interest. His heartfelt reading of "I Could Be That Guy" is one of the emotional highpoints of the show.

Dante Banks Murray captures the ruthlessness of Curtis, a shady club owner who sees shooting one of his henchmen as the cost of doing business. His dark rendition of "When I Find My Baby" sounds like a love song at first but hits lines like "I'm gonna drown that girl!/Or disembowel that girl!/Or give her skull a big dent/with a blunt instrument!"

Curtis surrounds himself with dimwitted partners in crime T.J. (Carter Minor), Joey (Jordan Stockdale) and Pablo (Daniel Lopez). That trio's highlight is their spotlight song "A Lady In A Long Black Dress," their playbook on how to hit on a nun: "Come on, proud Mary, Meet your missionary of romance."

The crafty songs are courtesy of the team of Alan Menken (music) and Gene Slater (lyrics). Menken provided the musical magic of shows like LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS and BEAUTY AND THE BEAST and Slater gave the musical SCHOOL OF ROCK its edge.

As the nuns choir progresses in the show, its songs get more complex and its outfits more outlandish. There are no words to describe seeing Roth blinged out like Kesha and rapping. While the movie version had the nuns creating Motown sounding hymn, this show is set in the 1970s and most of the music has a Disco Era vibe to it. The band of Jones and Dee Saunders (keyboards), Jeff Jones (drums), Tom Regouski (winds), Zsolt Dvornik (guitar) and Sara Smith (bass and cello) handle the music of that decade flawlessly.

The big surprise of the musical is that it has more substance and style than the original movie release. When SISTER ACT came out as a movie in 1992, critic Roger Ebert dismissed it, saying "whoever edited the trailer has a much better idea of what's good in this material than the man who directed the movie," and that it "doesn't have the zest and sparkle it needs."

That cannot be said of the musical, which touches on topics like the commercialization of religion, the price of fame, and faith and doubt. Instead of being a fluffy confection that is consumed and forgotten, SISTER ACT gives its audience something to think about long after curtain call.

Short North Stage's SISTER ACT continues Dec. 9 through Dec. 19 at the Garden Theater (1187 North High Street in downtown Columbus). After taking a 11-day respite for the winter holidays, SISTER ACT'S run concludes with shows from Dec. 30-Jan. 2. Performances are 7 p.m. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday with 2 p.m. matinees Dec. 11-12, Dec. 18-19, and Jan. 2. To assure a safe environment during the pandemic, the theater mandates all patrons be masked during performances regardless of their vaccination status and provide proof of vaccination OR proof of a negative PCR test within 72 hours for entry. For more information, visit ShortNorthStage.org or call 614-725-4042.


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