BWW Review: SISTER ACT at Palm Canyon Theatre

BWW Review: SISTER ACT at Palm Canyon Theatre

Sisters are doing it for themselves at the Palm Canyon Theatre (PCT). Although Whoopi Goldberg's two Sister Act movies are well known, the Broadway musical that they spawned is a bit less familiar to most folks. That will not be the case from this point forward as PCT is filling houses with the valley premiere of the Broadway musical, Sister Act. With a top-notch cast and enthusiastic direction, we can only shout, "Hallelujah!"

The plot starts with nightclub singer Deloris Van Cartier (Nicole Tillman) witnessing the nightclub owner (Robbie Wayne) murdering an associate. She escapes the club before he can permanently silence her, and runs to the sheriff (Ben Reece) who arranges for her to hide out in a local convent until she can testify. The convent's Mother Superior (Amanda Burr) is against the plan, but the monsignor (Terry Huber) convinces her that there are financial benefits for the convent. Deloris finds that the nuns are the worst, dullest singers on the planet, so she sets about teaching them snazzy new songs, complete with choreography and glittering accessories added to their habits. Despite Mother Superior's constant plans to rid the convent of Deloris, attendance at services increases, collections are way up, and the Pope has adjusted his schedule to allow him to watch the sisters perform.

The energy throughout the evening is spectacular, especially in the numbers where Tillman is leading the sisters in enthusiastic sacred production numbers. Tillman hails from Asbury, New Jersey where she is the Worship Leader of the Shore Christian Church, so her role indeed finds art imitating life. From her first number in the nightclub, "Take Me to Heaven," we know that she is a very special talent, and it is obvious why PCT was willing to transport her across the country to take on this role. There doesn't seem to be a moment in the show when she sits back and takes a breath.

The rest of the cast has many highlights. Amanda Burr's Mother Superior is funny as the exasperated leader of the convent, and when she opens up to deliver a ballad, hold onto your suspenders. Powerful and beautiful, her singing is the stuff that Broadway exists for. Two other powerhouses in the nuns' ranks are Elizabeth Schmelling and Jasmine Shaffer. Perhaps it was the nuns habits that made their strong performances so unexpected, but the audience certainly showered them with love during their bows.

Bankable Ben Reece once again delivers just what is needed as the sheriff, a role that could otherwise be overlooked. He sings a solo which involves a wardrobe trick that left me rolling in the aisle. Also strong is Robbie Wayne as the gangster - doing double duty as director of the show as well - and his henchmen, Anthony Nannini and Johnathan Hatsios, who do a hilarious number in Act 2. With 18 nuns onstage, it's difficult to locate even familiar faces, but their production numbers were universally excellent.

J. W. Layne's enjoyable sets were a series of three tall flats on each side of the stage, excellently painted as cathedral walls with stained-glass windows, which served as legs. There was also one large stained-glass window upstage center. I wish that center unit could have moved off or been covered for scenes such as the sheriff's and club owner's offices, but the majority of the show takes place in the convent, so the windows and gothic stonework are the perfect picture frame.

All three performances on opening weekend were sold out, so it's a good idea to check today to see what seats are still available for the remaining two weekends. Sister Act plays through March 25. The PCT box office can be reached at, or 760-323-5123.

Just in time for baseball season, Damn Yankees will be the next production at PCT, running April 6 - 15.

Photo by Paul Hayashi

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