BWW Review: SISTER ACT: THE MUSICAL Brings Music and Laughs to Centre Stage
"I know you work in mysterious ways, but this is one for the books."
It opens in a seedy disco and closes at a papal mass. In between, there's music, mayhem, and, just maybe, a little divine intervention.
Sister Act: The Musical, now playing at Centre Stage, follows the rough outline of the 1992 Whoopi Goldberg film, but pushes the events back in time - to the late 1970s - and to a new location, Philadelphia. This lets the show indulge in the sounds and images of seventies disco, funk, soul, and even rap. It's a change that inspires a lot of energy as well as plenty of laughs.
Simone Mack-Orr stars as Deloris, an aspiring nightclub singer who hides in a convent after inadvertently witnessing a murder. She's reluctantly welcomed by the Mother Superior (Karen Covington-Yow) and soon ends up leading the convent choir, even as she tries to stay one step ahead of the mobsters on her trail.
Cheri & Bill Steinkellner offer a serviceable script with more than plenty of nun-related gags. It's a bit slow to start, but once it kicks in, the story zips right along, aided tremendously by composer Alan Menken and lyricist Glenn Slater's songs. Covering many genres and boasting some truly funny lyrics, the music may not stick in your mind for long after you leave, but in the moment they work perfectly.
Director Glenda Manwaring keeps the show moving, adding in some nice cartoon-y bits to accentuate the lightness of the proceedings, and she's greatly aided in this effort by a strong cast and some terrific choreography from Vaughn Newman, Jr.
Simone Mack-Orr brings an earthiness to the role of Deloris, helping sell the character's transition from down and dirty lounge singer to unwitting servant of God. She also gets some fantastic assistance from a dynamite ensemble, especially in big rambunctious numbers like "It's Good to Be a Nun" and "Raise Your Voice."
Karen Covington-Yow displays a gorgeous voice as a suitably stern and exasperated Mother Superior. Taylor Marlatt is simply hilarious as the rambunctious Sister Mary Patrick. Arleen Black, too, deserves the big laughs she gets as Sister Mary Lazarus, the choir director turned rap sensation. As the shy postulate Sister Mary Robert, Morgan Voke-Thomason unleashes a devastating soprano.
Other standout performers in this large, talented cast include Andre Webb, who absolutely kills it in his showcase number "I Could Be That Guy," and Brian Reeder as the antagonist Curtis, whose first big number, "When I Find My Baby," is another highlight. Both of those songs feature top-notch choreography well-performed by all involved. Kudos also go to Kristofer Parker, Ray Jones, and Daniel Marlatt as Curtis' henchmen who get their own moments to shine in "Lady in the Long Black Dress."
The opening night crowd hooted, hollered and - if I remember correctly - even shouted out "Amen!" a couple of times. Laughs were frequent and the few lulls were quickly banished by another terrific production number.
Also aiding the fun feel of the night were the colorful period costumes by Heather Carey and Will Luther's set. Victor DeLeon also earns considerable credit for hair and makeup.
In the end, the musical itself is nothing revolutionary. You won't come away from Sister Act with any new insights into the theatre or the church or the state of the human condition. But you will come away thoroughly entertained. And most of the time, isn't that exactly what you want?
Sister Act: The Musical runs through April 8 at Centre Stage, 501 River Street, Greenville, SC. For reservations and showtimes, call the box office at 864-233-6733 or visit www.centrestage.org.