SISTER ACTMusic by Alan Menken, Lyrics by Glenn Slater
Book by Cheri Steinkellner and Bill Steinkellner
Additional Book Material by Douglas Carter Beane
Based on the Touchstone Pictures Motion Picture Sister Act written by Joseph Howard
Orchestrations by Doug Besterman
Vocal and Incidental Music Arrangements by Mark Hummel
Director –Steven D. Morris
Music Director—Elaine Davidson
Choreography –Nicole Jamie Carrano
Scenic Designer—Bryan Stevenson
Lighting Designer—Bryan Stevenson
Sound Designer—Ryan Simón
Properties Design—Robin Dotson
Stage Manager—Maria Leon Hickox*
Delores Van Cartier—Myiesha J. Duff
Cop—Kevin Davis Jr.
Mother Superior—Deborah Brown*
Monsignor O’Hara—Michael Green
Sister Mary Patrick—Payton Hartwick
Sister Mary Robert—Tara Park
Sister Mary Lazarus—Ken’Ja Brown
Sister Mary Martin of Tours—Caitlin Martelle
Sister Mary Theresa—Cathy Pritchett
Cab Driver—Darin Martin
Ensemble—Becca Brown, Olivia Cartwright, Mattie Lillian Davis, Kevin Davis, Darin Martin, Joshua Nerio
* Ms. Leon Hickox and Ms. Brown appear courtesy of Actors’ Equity Association by special arrangement. Actors’ Equity Association is the union of professional actors and stage managers.
Reviewed Performance: 3/25/2022
Reviewed by Genevieve Croft , Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Based on the 1992 film, starring Whoopi Goldberg, Kathy Najimy, and Maggie Smith, “Sister Act” follows nightclub singer Deloris Van Cartier (as in that Cartier) as she longs to be a famous singer. One night as she is leaving the disco club (owned by her mafia-tied boyfriend, Curtis), Deloris witnesses Curtis killing a man. She flees the scene and seeks the protection of a local Philadelphian policeman (and former schoolmate Eddie), she is pushed into a convent to hide at the local Catholic parish.
Assuming the name Sister Mary Clarence, Van Cartier is shocked to learn she cannot drink, smoke, and suffers the many limitations of the convent, under the judgmental eye of the Mother Superior. Soon, Van Cartier forms a familial bond with her Sisters and teaches their choir some new and modern ways of vocal performance and ways to shake up the traditional practices of the church. With a hilarious film as the inspiration, music by Broadway Master Alan Menken, and a hilarious book by Cheri and Bill Steinkellner (writers of the classic comedy sitcom, Cheers) audiences are guaranteed the perfect formula of a Broadway musical. Quite often, when writers take on the task of adapting a film to the stage, some of the comedy or the “magic” of the film is lost. This is certainly not the case with Sister Act (billed as the “Divine Comedy.”) The humor of the film translates nicely to the stage production and gives audiences an opportunity to see the many themes of female friendship, love, and acceptance-especially in a world where the idea of “acceptance” is widely criticized.
Director Steven D. Morris brought together a large ensemble cast of actors who worked well together. Theatre Arlington is a labor of love for Morris, and it is evident in this production. There was a multitude of talent in the ensemble (of all ages) and it is palpable that Morris was able to shape and mold this talented cast in a very clever way, and they were able to tell the story of Deloris Van Cartier, and her fellow Sisters in the Catholic parish. The overall production concept was fantastic! Morris was able to guide his cast and crew and transport audiences to 1977 with costume, style, and set designs. It is certainly apparent to me that each designer worked closely with Morris in unifying the creative vision for this production of “Sister Act.” It was a fun, and enthusiastic production that brought high energy to the almost sold-out crowd at Theatre Arlington on Friday evening. I very much enjoyed the staging of the “chase” scene shortly into the first Act. The best way to describe it is one of those old-fashioned zany comedies à la The Marx Brothers.
Set Designer Bryan Stevenson successfully transformed the proscenium stage into multiple locations in the story. Theatre Arlington has a wonderful new turntable on the stage to help change locations within the story. With the first location change, the audience was certainly in awe of such a simple, but dazzling change. While the main set was quite simple, it was designed in a way (two-sided) and dressed in a simple set and prop pieces to transform each location into its own place. When one side was visible to the audience, the ensemble was hard at work re-dressing and transforming the opposite side to the next location. It was impressive to see how such simple things as the local bar and the police station were established with simple furniture or wall art. I was extremely impressed with the flow of the location changes using the turntable, and seamless transitions from place to place. It really helped to keep the pacing up. The pacing never faltered, and before I knew it, the production was over.
Pulling double duty in the design category was Bryan Stevenson. While working hard to deliver his scenic design concept to the stage, Stevenson was also tasked with the lighting for this production. The lighting for this production was phenomenal! Audiences were easily transported to the prototypical disco (complete with mirror ball) and lively colorful lighting. One of the best moments in the lighting category was Stevenson’s use of light and shadow in the confessional booth of the church. I am always fascinated when the lighting designer is able to capture moments of simple silhouette and shadow on stage. Not only does it affect moments told within the story, but, these moments are always visually stunning, and are most amazing to see on stage.
As it was opening night for “Sister Act,” as expected- the cast was so full of energy and enthusiasm. I am confident that it is not just “opening night energy.” Audiences around me were roaring with laughter at the antics and misunderstandings of Sister Mary Clarence and the reactions of the Mother Superior.
Karen Potter served as the costume designer for this production. Almost instantly, I was transported back to 1977, and the Trash Disco era in Philadelphia. Although (slightly) embarrassed to admit, I love the era of Trash Disco. The women’s outfits were wild, showy, and sparkly. I also enjoyed seeing some of the quintessential “tacky” men’s outfits-large bellbottom suit pants, printed blazers, and wide ties. Pair that with the stereotypical nun’s habits, and you have a nice differentiation between two vastly different groups of individuals. You will be in for a fun surprise as the Nuns’ habits slowly start to reflect the changing attitude of the parish, and the influence of Sister Mary Clarence. I don’t want to ruin the element of surprise, but I can guarantee you it is flashy! The best way I can describe it is “Studio 54 in a church.” Brava! Overall, the costumes were fantastic, and one of my favorite design elements of the production. Be sure to watch out for a fabulous white “fox fur” coat somewhere in Act II. It will make your inner Disco fan freak out. Seriously, Disco fashion needs a comeback.
Myiesha J. Duff was fantastic in the dual role of Deloris Van Cartier and Sister Mary Clarence. Duff gave an enthusiastic performance full of energy, intensity, and a wonderful spirit. Not only did Duff deliver with an absolutely incredible singing voice, but she also delivered with her comedic timing and facial expressions. She was larger than life on stage and took control of every scene with her commanding talents. Her singing style very much reminded me of Disco Queen Donna Summer (who is referenced quite often in the script) so, it was no surprise that Duff landed the role. Duff really brought down the house with “Raise Your Voice” and “Take Me to Heaven”-the very much Disco-inspired song that got stuck in my head for hours after the show was over. It reminded me of a popular Disco hit that I just couldn’t put my finger on. Then, it finally hit me. “It’s Raining Men” by The Weather Girls. A classic of the Disco Era.
Deborah Brown was phenomenal in the role of the stereotypical and uptight Mother Superior. Brown wowed audiences with her tremendous comic timing, animated facial expressions, and fantastic vocal range. Brown was full of energy, and enthusiasm, and gave audiences an honest depiction of her creation of the role of Mother Superior. It was enjoyable to see her reactions to the unconventional behavior of Deloris at the convent. I also thought her performance was very genuine-her character certainly took audiences on a journey from the beginning to the end of the story.
Another standout is Payton Hartwick in the role of Sister Mary Patrick. Hartwick provided everything that I would expect for the role originally played by Kathy Najimy-which is a tough act to follow, I’m sure. She even resembled a young Najimy on stage! Through comedic timing, an extremely likable on-stage persona, and an incredible vocal range, Hartwick brought an element of humor and light-heartedness to the role. The stage presence of Hartwick was always very animated, and I enjoyed watching her delivery with her fellow Sisters. Hartwick was a wonderful foil to the “less than perfect” Sister Mary Clarence and provided the audience with some very genuine and sweet moments regarding the importance of female friendship, and devotion to each other.
Other standout performers included Dwight Taylor as a club owner and Mafia man Curtis. In such a female-dominated show, Taylor certainly held his own. Taylor really brought a much-needed element of humor to the production with his rendition of “When I Find My Baby” (with Landry Beckley, Alex Koch, and Alfredo Tamayo). It was very reminiscent of Barry White and Marvin Gaye-two fixtures of the 1970s funk music scene. Taylor’s “back-up” singers kept me laughing throughout the production. One worth noting was Curtis’ nephew, TJ (played wonderfully by Landry Beckley)-who provided an occasional dose of humor, and silliness in the story.
Another performance of note is Aaron LeDay in the role of “Sweaty” Eddie-the Philadelphia Police Officer (and former schoolmate) of Deloris Van Cartier. While LeDay’s comedic delivery and facial expressions were spot on, there were a few weaknesses with his vocal delivery. I am certain that this can be chalked up to potential opening night jitters. As the production wore on, LeDay’s vocal delivery improved, and confidence enhanced. Both Taylor and LeDay dominated their scenes and were able to hold their own next to a plethora of females in the company. Some of the funniest moments came with Taylor and LeDay’s on-stage relationship with Deloris. It was most enjoyable to watch.
Members of the convent that deserve a nod include Ken’Ja Brown (Sister Mary Lazarus), Tara Park (Sister Mary Robert), and Caitlan Martelle (Sister Mary Martin of Tours). Each of these actresses brought a unique twist to their roles. From the consistent moments of humor, outlandish facial expressions, and powerful singing voices, these actresses were incredible in their performances. I laughed so much that I was sore from all the laughter. That should certainly say something about the talent of these actresses and the humor throughout the story.
At this time, I would like to say something that I typically do not include in a review. However, in the scope of everything happening today, I feel that this mention is paramount. Upon reading LeDay’s bio in the program, I noticed that he completed military service as a United States Marine. I would like to thank Mr. LeDay for his service. It is impressive to see many other credits on stage resume, as well. Thank you.
This production of Sister Act is definitely worth seeing. The diligence to the details is evident in all aspects of this production makes for a heavenly experience at the theatre- pardon the pun. I would caution you, however, this production has moments of violence and adult humor. It is certainly for mature audiences. By the way, do not forget your facial covering…they are required per the agreement with Actor’s Equity. If you are looking for a light and irreverent musical comedy that is chock-full of religious humor- look no further than “Sister Act,” produced by Theatre Arlington… it is one of the best productions of “Sister Act” I have seen in a while-bar “Nun.” I know, another pun. I will offer three hail Marys to be forgiven for them. Amen.
305 W Main St, Arlington, Texas 76010
Plays through April 16.
Thursday, Friday, Saturday at 7:30 pm, Sunday at 2:00 pm
Ticket prices are as follows:
Students and Seniors (62+): $27.30
For more information, visit: www.theatrearlington.org or call: 817-275-7661