BWW Review: SISTER ACT Sizzles! at Music Theatre Wichita
Musical comedy and summer go together - especially in a town like Wichita when the "feels like" temperature is 101 with 70% humidity! It was absolutely blissful to slide into a comfy seat at the well air conditioned Century II Concert Hall to watch Music Theatre Wichita's season opener, Sister Act. Curtain is at 8pm, but I like to get there by 7:30pm to hear Wayne Bryan, MTW's Producing Artistic Director, share his dramaturgical insights on the production, and also to watch the Teen Choir perform a few musical numbers relevant to the current show. Since Sister Act is set in the 1970's, we were treated to Shining Star, by Earth, Wind, and Fire. It was great to see two of my favorite High School performers, Thomas Higgins and Ethan Crank, dancing front and center! Kudos also to Molly Brown, who performed the solo on this number. With vocal direction by Emily Sternfeld-Dunn, and choreography by Joshua Larson, the teens sounded strong and looked great!
Sister Act is based on the hit 1992 film starring Whoopi Goldberg, featuring original music by Tony- and eight-time Oscar winner, Alan Menken (Newsies, Beauty and the Beast, Little Shop of Horrors), and was nominated for five Tony Awards, including Best Musical.
Set in Philadelphia, PA, the story revolves around Deloris Van Cartier, a wannabe disco diva who witnesses club owner Curtis Jackson, her married lover, commit a murder. She is put in protective custody by Eddie Souther, an old high school chum who is the head detective on the case. Eddie places Deloris in a convent, and disguised as a nun, immediately locks horns with her polar opposite, Mother Superior. Distraught when she realizes she is doomed to a life of sacrifice, Deloris is inspired to breathe new life into the convent's anemic chorus of nuns, and hilarity insues.
MTW's production, directed by Mark Madama (University of Michigan), is imbued with a joyous spirit that builds throughout the production, with well crafted moments that tug at the heart. The newly created choreography, by Robert Hartwell, gives a nod and a wink to the 70s, combining classic Motown moves, a little Paris is Burning sass, and adds some contemporary twists (watch for the death drop in the 11 o'clock number!) Strong musical direction was provided by Thomas W. Douglas, who also conducts a 17-piece orchestra. Maestro Douglas comes to us straight from serving as Musical Director for Leslie Odom Jr.'s 2018 Concert Tour. The minimalist but gorgeous sets were created at Ogunquit Playhouse by designer Adam Koch. The costumes by Jeff Hendry were perfect, with many delicious surprises. David Neville provided ethereal, atmospheric lighting to compliment the minimalistic set, and sound designer David Muehl kept us aurally engaged.
The casting was spot on for this production of Sister Act. Shonica Goodin, whose Broadway credits include Rumpleteazer in the Cats Revival, and ensemble member in Hamilton, played Deloris with spunk and conviction. She moved Deloris from a down-on-her-luck girl to a woman who discovers the power and truth of love. Goodin's voice grows during the performance, becoming the strongest when she is singing with the nuns, and later in the 11 o'clock number, Fabulous, Baby (Reprise), when she realizes who she is and who cares for her most.
Our local performers were outstanding! Katie Banks-Todd (Mother Superior), whose Broadway credits include Carlotta in both Broadway and Touring productions of Phantom of the Opera, delivered excellent crisp enunciation, clean sound, and the perfect nun glide. Her Mother Superior was an excellent foil for Goodin's Deloris. Jenny Mitchell, Executive Director of Laughing Feet, and a Mosley Street Melodrama regular, was perfectly cast as Sister Mary Patrick, giving her a genuine exuberance without falling into caricature. Mitchell has a great voice and excellent comedic timing, which she uses here to great advantage.
Kolby Kindle, who has played Curtis Jackson in the Second National Tour of Sister Act, poured on his classic 70's voice in When I Find my Baby, ably aided and abetted by his henchmen Joey (Chris Clark), Pablo (Michael Dikegoros) & TJ (Justin Showell). The three henchmen are featured throughout the show, sporting spot-on harmonies and easily recognizable characters from the era. Lawrence Cummings, best known to area audiences for his role as Sebastian in Little Mermaid in MTW's 2012 Season, plays Eddie Souther - Sweaty Eddie - and delivers a thoughtful, quiet storm version of I Could Be That Guy, complete with street people backup and a few really well placed surprises! Rounding out the male characters is another local favorite, who was with us last season as Bunson in Newsies, is Nicholas F. Saverine, as Monsignor O'Hara - a warm hearted priest with a great sense of humour, and a great foil for the sharp disciplinarian and authority of Bank's Mother Superior. "God has answered your prayers. You just don't like the answer" He gets down with a Funky Sanctus that segues into Sunday Morning Fever, and you will love it.
I have to mention Rene Anderson, who is based out of Edmond, OK, and has worked at The Lyric, MUNY, the KC Starlight, and is a denizen of local theatre in Oklahoma City. Her Sister Mary Lazarus is endearing and loveable, and her interpretation of Rapper's Delight in Sunday Morning Fever is not to be missed! The show stopping song of the evening was The Life I Never Led, sung by Nina White. White is a student, a junior at University of Michigan. White's portrayal of Sister Mary Robert, the postulant who is unsure of the life she chosen, is simple, beautiful, and heartfelt. Her clear, powerful, clarion bell belt is a treasure, and I can't wait to see what she does next.
I would be remiss if I did not get special mention to the ensemble members, who executed the well-built, thoughtfully constructed staging and choreography with precision and exuberance. The Second Act numbers build steadily and consistently to the end of the show. Raise Your Voice, with its wonderful staging; Bless Our Show was so sweet - like a nun slumber party! The Take Me to Heaven Reprise was clean, energetic and exuberant, right down to the Zigfield Follies Circle of Poms! There was some amazing crossover staging during the showdown at the convent between Curtis and his henchmen and the nuns, with all things 70's - Shaft Guitar, Kung Fu, Charlie's Angels, the gratuitous Spanish Translation, and Cowbell. This all builds to the poignant scene where Mother Superior and the rest of the nuns are willing to take a bullet for Deloris, even though she lied to them about the reasons she was at the convent. It was a beautiful moment. I don't want to give it all away if you don't know the show, but there are more beautiful costumes and set surprises at the end.
Please do yourself a favor and see this show. You will not be disappointed. I left the theatre feeling uplifted, and thoroughly entertained. Sister Act runs until Sunday, June 17th, with performances Friday and Saturday at 8pm, and Sunday at 7pm. There are Matinees on Saturday and Sunday at 2pm. Tickets can be purchased online at https://mtow-internet.choicecrm.net/templates/MTOW/?event#/events , by calling 316.265.3107, or by visiting the box office on the first floor of Century II. Upcoming shows include Guys and Dolls, June 27-July 1; Disney's Freaky Friday, July 11-15; Pippin, July 25-29; and Disney's The Little Mermaid, August 8-18.