BWW Review: Hale Centre Theatre Presents A Glorious SISTER ACT
"Get thee to a nunnery" may seem an unlikely prescription for witness protection, but in the case of wannabee singing star Deloris Van Cartier, the placement makes for an un-convent-ional and lively face-off between the spirit of the street and the sanctimony of the church. Here then is the premise of SISTER ACT, the musical based on the popular 1992 film, directed by the late Emile Ardolino and featuring Whoopi Goldberg.
In Hale Centre Theatre's current production of the show, Cambrian James once again graces the theatre-in-the-round with his imaginative direction and brilliant choreography. He allows for no lapse in energy and movement, makes maximum use of the available space, and endows each player with the opportunity to shine.
And, in SISTER ACT, there's no shortage of shining (and delightfully surprising and comical) moments, given the assortment of distinctive and contrasting personalities that populate the Holy Order of the Little Sisters of Our Mother of Perpetual Faith. Among these are Greta Perlmutter as the restrained Sister Mary Robert, Kinsey Peotter as the jovial Sister Mary Patrick, and Heather Fallon as the persnickety Sister Mary Lazarus. Once constrained, they and their fellow nuns become unleashed from the dictates of their dour prioress by virtue of an other-than-divine intervention.
The catalyst for their conversion from Order to dis-Order is of course the brash lounge singer who has taken refuge in their midst, on the lam from the clutches of her gangster beau, Curtis Shank (Mac Hawbaker).
Ashley Jackson is terrific as Deloris, now assuming an identity as Sister Mary Clarence. (When I last saw Jackson in Hale's production of AIDA, I raved about her towering performance as the eponymous heroine. She does not disappoint. This actress brings to the stage both a remarkable vocal range and a fine instinct for character development.)
Deloris's uninhibited sassiness is a perfect counterpoint to Kathleen Richards' more solemn and authoritative Mother Superior. Jackson and Richards, both possessed of powerhouse voices, deliver stellar performances as the polar opposites around whom the turns of the story revolve.
Deloris is ill-suited to adhere to the rain of thou-shalt-nots imposed by the Order's head. Her rebellious spirit is contagious and before long she's developed her own following, especially as she takes control of the discordant choir and turns them into a holy chorus. The timing couldn't be better as Monsignor O'Hara (Matthew R. Harris) announces that the Church is facing closure. The saintly voices of the turnaround choir radiate from the chapel and salvation comes with the filling of the pews. Deloris is a virtual godsend but a still unwelcome presence to Mother Superior, whose earnest pleas to the Lord for her departure go seemingly unheeded.
While things are churning in the Church, mention must be made of some standout performances beyond the cloistered walls. Nicholas Hambruch is endearing as the awkward cop who rescues Deloris (and has a crush on her, too); his rendition of I Could Be That Guy brings the house down. Kyle Webb, Raymond Barcelo, and Ricco Machado-Torres team up as Curtis's three goons and pull out all the stops with their over-the-top hustle and shuffle moves in When I Find My Baby and Lady In the Long Black Dress.
All of SISTER ACT makes for a grand tale of redemption and marvelous character studies. There is, too, another layer to the story that, in these volatile times, gives added relevance to the story. Deloris embodies the spirit of disruption, challenging institutional rules and rituals but also challenged by them. All of the characters are stuck in prescribed roles that are in contrast to the the lives that they never led but to which they have aspired. Deloris then, in turn, represents an intervention into the system that allows for reflection, synergy, and transformation.
The bottom line is that this production of SISTER ACT is a wholesome, eye-opening, and thoroughly energizing experience. Good for the soul!!!
The show, which opened on July 7th, runs through August 18th at Hale Centre Theatre in Gilbert, AZ.
Photo credit to Nick Woodward-Shaw