BWW Review: Raleigh Little Theatre's SISTER ACT
Based on Emile Ardolino's 1992 film of the same name, Sister Act follows disco diva Deloris Van Cartier as she is put in protective custody after witnessing a murder. Not only that, but she is hidden in the one place that the cops are sure she won't be found, a convent. While struggling through the restrictions of her new lifestyle, Deloris uses her unique disco moves and singing talent to inspire the choir, but in doing so, she jeopardizes her cover.
After having its world premiere at The Pasadena Playhouse in 2006, the musical adaptation eventually made it to London's West End on June 2nd, 2009. Despite mixed critical reviews, the production received 4 Olivier Award nominations (including Best New Musical). After having a change of director's and Douglas Carter Beane coming on board to rewrite the original book by Cheri & Bill Steinkellner, Sister Act made it to Broadway on April 20th, 2011. While the show ended up opening in a season that was dominated by The Book of Mormon, the production still managed to receive 5 Tony Award nominations (including Best Musical), and a run of 561 performances after closing on August 26th, 2012.
In recent years, so many popular films have been adapted into stage musicals. I know many people have complained about the lack of originality happening on Broadway, which I understand very well. I'm also well aware that several of these film-to-stage musicals probably suffered from relying too much on their screen counterparts as opposed to creating a great standalone musical. However, I think Sister Act does exactly what you need to do when turning a film into a stage musical. Douglas Carter Beane's script captures the essence of the movie, yet was able to take advantage of what you can do in live theatre that you could never be able to accomplish in film (and vice versa). Probably the biggest difference is that the musical takes place in Philadelphia during the 1970's as opposed to the West Coast in the 1990's. Not only that, but we get more time with certain characters than we usually would in a movie, plus a great, fabulous score by Alan Menken & Glenn Slater.
Under the direction of Nancy Rich, the incredibly talented company of RLT's production that'll be running through September 9th is led by Tyanna West, who gives a stellar performance as Deloris Van Cartier. Not only does her charisma carry the show from beginning-to-end, but her vocal performance literally brings the house down. Alison Lawrence stands out as the Mother Superior, who is extremely protective about keeping her sisters away from the outside world, which puts her in direct opposition to Deloris and her musical teachings. In what almost appears to be a star-making performance, 17-year-old Averi Zimmermann gives a heartfelt performance as the shy and soft-spoken Sister Mary Robert, who is able to find her voice from singing with Deloris. In place of Harvey Keitel's character of Vince LaRocca from the movie is notorious gangster, Curtis Jackson, given a suave performance by JaJuan Cofield. Benaiah Barnes also gives a caring performance as Eddie Souther, the police cheif who has been nicknamed 'Sweaty Eddie'.
Overall, Sister Act is a great musical comedy filled with heart that's fabulously represented by a talented group of locals in the Triangle area. By the end, audiences should raise their voices shouting "Hallelujah"!
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