BWW Review: SISTER ACT lifts your soul at Theatre Baton Rouge
In pop culture history, nuns have always been campy figures in the imaginations of the masses. But it was the snazzy, jazzy rhythm found within the hit film "Sister Act" that renewed the popularity seen by the likes of the Flying Nun and the von Trapp family. And now you can have a little spirit in your soul at Theatre Baton Rouge where the musical adaptation of SISTER ACT is having its regional premiere.
The musical, with its score by Disney legend Alan Menken and lyrics by Glenn Slater, is loosely based on the 1992 Whoopi Goldberg film with just a few sprinklings of the long-running "Nunsense" throughout.
Vibrant newcomer Erika Pattman plays as struggling lounge singer Deloris Van Cartier who is trying to make it big in the music industry. Her life is turned upside down when she witnesses her married, nightclub-owning boyfriend, Curtis Jackson (Kirkland Green), kill one of his cronies. Deloris flees to the police, and under the advice of Lt. Eddie Souther (Tyler Grezaffi), agrees to serve as a witness in the case against Curtis. To protect her until the court date is set, Deloris is sent by the police to a convent called The Holy Order of the Little Sisters of Our Mother of Perpetual Faith for protective custody.
Having a troubled past with the church, Deloris, now known as Sister Mary Clarence, finds herself quickly at odds with the stern and traditional Mother Superior, who believes that Deloris cannot abide by life as a nun. And while Deloris does still try to live life by her own rules, she finds belonging when she begins working with the lackluster nun's choir, turning them into a hit Vegas-style sensation. With renewed spirits found within the soul of their music, the ragtag group of sisters becomes a tight-knit family.
Despite some mic trouble on Sunday afternoon, co-directors Kurt Hauschild and Courtney McKay Murphy have put together a smooth-running and character-filled production. It is led by Pattman, who will take you to heaven with her winning portrayal of Deloris. Utterly new to TBR (as well as musical theatre), watching Pattman would make you think otherwise with her bold and sassy stage presence, great comic timing and a powerhouse of a voice during the rousing and reflective numbers. Pattman made the role her own while still working as an embodiment of what we remember from the film.
The battle of wills Deloris faces with TBR vet Jennifer Johnson as Mother Superior is a treat to watch with the contrast of the character's personalities. Singing with a sweet cadence, During "I Haven't Got a Prayer," Johnson makes you feel for the hard-edged Mother Superior, who only wishes for life at the church to return to normal. Though by the time the last number hits, you know Mother Superior will be kicking up her heels with Deloris.
Natalie H. Overall is charming and sweet as the innocent postulant Sister Mary Roberts, who is in doubts that the life of a nun is her true calling while singing "The Life I Never Led," one of the highlights of the show. Mary Pittman is feisty as the choir leader Sister Mary Lazarus, and Alaina Richard is utterly delightful as the pure cinnamon roll Sister Mary Patrick. The remaining cast who play the nuns are perfection and portrayed their characters with the right mixture of humor and heart.
The men struggled a bit vocally, but they captured the essence of their roles, particularly Grezaffi as the officer who protects Deloris and has admired her from afar during their high school years. He has a fun fantasy number (with great costume quick changes) in which he dreams about being the right guy for Deloris.
Green has a commanding presence as the nightclub owner, Curtis, and it's fun to watch the other thugs played by Antoine Pierce, Jeremy Skupien, and Davis C. Hotard sing about the ladies in black dresses.
Kenneth Mayfield's impressive sets include sturdy-looking drops that transform the stage into several locations including a nightclub, a stone church, and the streets of Philly. The church, with its stained-glass windows, was lit well by Louis Gagliano.
The orchestra led by music director Jamie Leonard Brubaker complements the cast with an uprising spirit to aid the singers in playing Menken's catchy, 70's inspired numbers.
Throughout the musical, you will see and hear toe-tappingly great songs, accompanied by energetic choreography and great set transformations. Then throw in the acting talents that can only be found at TBR, and you have yourself one entertaining show. You can't help but enjoy the warmth.