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
Granbury Theatre Company
Assistant Director—Jarrett Self
Music Director—Ashley Green
Choreography –Lena Moralez
Scenic Designer—William Byrum
Lighting Designer—Natalie Guess
Costume Designer—Devon Kleine
Sound Designer—Trey Johnson
Stage Manager—Hayley Vantine
CAST (at reviewed performance)
Delores Van Cartier—Takara Bailey
Mother Superior—Beth Missfeldt
Sister Mary Robert—Hannah Baker
Sister Mary Patrick—Jennifer Nickell
Sister Mary Lazarus—Stephanie Cessna
Monsignor O’Hara—Micky Shearon
Eddie Southern—Alvaro Aguilar
Sister Mary Martin-of-Tours—Kate Rongey
Sister Mary Theresa—Connie Ingram
Nuns—Edyn Esquivel, Brooke Goodson, Bailee Love, Jen Maroney, Trinity Seeley, Sandy Strittmatter, Mia Vantine
Ensemble—Claire Cash, Micah Chesney
Reviewed Performance: 8/7/2022
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) who 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 kill a potential police informant. She flees the scene and seeks the protection of a local Philadelphia policeman (and former classmate Eddie) and is dropped off at the local Catholic Parish in a haphazard plan of a witness protection plan in hiding her in a sea of nuns and blending in to hide her true identity.
Assuming the name Sister Mary Clarence (patron saint of criminals) Van Cartier is shocked to learn she cannot drink, smoke, and suffers the many limitations of the convent, while 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 usual way traditional and sacred method choral music is sung in the church.
With a hilarious film as the inspiration, music by Broadway Master Alan Menken, and a hilarious libretto, 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,” put those tomatoes away-that is NOT my pun). The humor of the film translates nicely to the stage production and allows audiences to see the many themes of female friendship, love, and acceptance, especially in a world where the idea of “acceptance” is widely criticized. Not only does “Sister Act” touch upon those topics, but, this production is chock-full of female empowerment, and is charged with wonderful energy.
Director Bentleigh Nesbit brings together a large ensemble cast of actors who mesh their talents together effortlessly and complimented each other beautifully on stage. There was a multitude of talent within the ensemble and it is palpable that Nesbit was able to shape and mold this talented cast in a very clever way, as 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! Nesbit was able to guide the cast and crew to transport audiences to 1977, with great assistance from her design team. It is certainly apparent to me that each designer worked closely with Nesbit 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 Granbury Opera House on Sunday afternoon. The staging was highly creative, as they incorporated much of the action in the audience (which is always fun to watch) and brought so much energy and charisma right before our eyes. It allowed the audience to fully immerse themselves into the story being told.
Set Designer William Byrum successfully transformed the proscenium stage into multiple locations within the book. With the first location change, the audience was certainly in awe of such a simple, but dazzling change. Byrum put quite a bit of time and effort into the design for this production. I love discovering small but important details in scenic design. Examples of this include an exterior brick wall (used for a large portion of the “back alley” or dangerous exterior scenes). The wall was full of some very artistic graffiti that was representative of the period. I marveled at the “weathered” and time-appropriate music posters (Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones, and Billy Joel) but I also loved the “GFR TAB” graffiti tag as well- true audiophiles might recognize this as “Grand Funk Railroad-The American Band.” Byrum’s design of the interior of the Church was fantastic! From the two large stately and grand staircases that decorated the left and the right of the chapel and the detailed and colorful stained-glass windows above. Byrum certainly delivers in the scenic design category. These transitions helped to keep the pacing up during the production, largely in part to Byrum’s cohesive scenic design that allowed for excellent flow throughout the production. The pacing never faltered, and before I knew it, the production was over.
Audiences were easily transported to the prototypical disco (complete with mirror ball) and lively colorful lighting. Overall, the scenery was visually stunning, it worked well with the lighting, which was designed by Natalie Guess. Not only was the lighting on par with the expectations of a church and a disco, but the incidental music used in the transitions further took me to the time and place. Sound designer Trey Johnson dug deep in the archive of the 1970s with songs like “I Wish” by Stevie Wonder, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” by Marvin Gaye and Tami Terrell, and a personal favorite, “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart,” by Elton John and Kiki Dee. The music selections were fabulous. I can’t imagine a more fun decade to research than the 1970’s-so many styles and sub-genres peppered throughout the decade. Kudos and recognition go to Johnson and the Sound Design-often an afterthought in many performances.
As this was opening weekend for “Sister Act,” the cast was so full of bouncing off the walls energy and enthusiasm. I am confident that it is not just “opening weekend energy.” Audiences around me were roaring with laughter at the antics and misunderstandings of Sister Mary Clarence and the reactions of the Mother Superior.
Devon Kleine served as the costume designer for this production. Almost instantly, I was transported back to the late 1970s, and the Trash Disco era in Philadelphia. Although (only slightly) embarrassed to admit, I love the era of Trash Disco. The women’s outfits were wild, colorful, 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 (of course even those get their own “Disco Spin” in the end) and you have a nice differentiation between two vastly different groups of individuals. Many costumes have such nice diligence. You will be in for a laugh as the Nuns’ habits slowly start to reflect the changing attitude of the parish, under the influence of Sister Mary Clarence. I don’t want to ruin the entire element of surprise, but I can guarantee you it is eye-dazzling! The best way I can describe it is “Studio 54 in a church.” Brava! Overall, the costumes were fantastic. One of my favorite design creations of the production. Be sure to watch out for the fabulous glittery “FM” or “Father Mulcahey” boots that Deloris (hilariously renamed for the character on “M*A*S*H*) dons throughout the production-it will make your inner Disco fan freak out. Seriously, Disco fashion needs a comeback! Are you curious to know why she calls them “Father Mulcahey” boots? See the show.
The only negative critique that I might make on the costume design is regarding Deloris’ two costumes. These costumes that Kleine designed and assembled were sadly ill-fitting, and not very flattering. I know costume design can be the most difficult part of working on the creative team for production, as there is often no “cookie cut” type of wardrobe-there is so many variables involved. However, I believe that they can make or break production. It was apparent to me that while both costumes fit the period, they seemed awkward for Bailey on stage, and troublesome for the choreography. It was disappointing (if only slightly) to see such a phenomenal actress in the role, wearing a wardrobe that was uncomfortable and potentially prevented her from not being able to commit to the role of Deloris fully physically. We may never know.
While her costumes may have presented an issue, it did not affect Takara Bailey’s out of this world performance. Bailey was fantastic in the dual role of Deloris Van Cartier and Sister Mary Clarence. Bailey gave an enthusiastic performance full of energy, intensity, and a wonderful spirit. Not only did Bailey shine with an 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 and stage presence. 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 Bailey landed the role. She 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 dawned on me. The song is “It’s Raining Men” by The Weather Girls. But wait! There’s more…I believe that this song was a delightful inspiration between “It’s Raining Men,” and “Take Me Home” by Cher. Both are classics of the Disco Era.
Beth Missfeldt was phenomenal in the role of the stereotypical and uptight Mother Superior. Missfeldt wowed audiences with her tremendous comic timing, animated facial expressions, and fantastic vocal range. She was full of energy, and enthusiasm, and gave audiences an honest depiction of the role of a 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 Hannah Baker in the role of Sister Mary Robert, the newest Postulant in the convent. Through comedic timing, an extremely likable on-stage persona, and an incredible vocal range, Baker brought an element of humor and likeability to the role. The stage presence of Baker was always very animated, and I enjoyed watching her delivery and chemistry with her fellow Sisters. Baker was a wonderful foil to the “less than perfect” Sister Mary Clarence and provided the audience with some very genuine and sweet moments of the importance of female friendship, and devotion to each other. Baker has been in several productions at Granbury Theatre Center, and this role is one of my favorites. Her performance of “The Life I Never Led” was phenomenal! Baker filled the house with her powerful vocal delivery and confidence on stage.
Switching to the male ensemble, another standout performance included Griffin Bruce club owner, and Mafia man Curtis. In such a female-dominated show, Bruce certainly was able to hold his own. Bruce brought a much-needed element of humor to the production with his rendition of “When I Find My Baby” (with Kendrick Booth, Tyler Krumm, and Nolan Moralez). It was very reminiscent of Barry White and Marvin Gaye-two fixtures of the 1970s funk music scene. Bruce’s “back-up” singers kept me laughing throughout the production. One worth noting was Curtis’ nephew, TJ (played wonderfully by Kendrick Booth) who provided an occasional dose of humor, and silliness in the story. I have seen Booth in several productions over the last season, and he is certainly bringing a new level of maturity to the stage. I look forward to seeing what Booth produces next in his next production.
Another performance of note is Alvaro Aguilar in the role of “Sweaty” Eddie, the Philadelphia Police Officer (and former schoolmate) of Deloris Van Cartier. Alvaro’s comedic delivery and facial expressions were spots on, and his vocal delivery was equally as strong. Both Bruce and Aguilar 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 Bruce’s and Aguilar’s on-stage relationship with Deloris. I couldn’t help but laugh throughout the majority of the production.
The entire ensemble of Nuns was exceptional. 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 their sense of humor throughout the story. I love when I see a production with such a large ensemble and have each member in the ensemble stand out in my head after the production is over. This production of “Sister Act” is one of those productions.
Before concluding this review, I would like to extend a special note of thanks to the Head Usher at Granbury Theatre Company, Ms. Fern Bailey for always welcoming audiences with a smile, and being so hospitable for each production. It is people like you that make the theatre a memorable and inviting experience for everyone. Thank you!
This production of “Sister Act” is a hit show that you will want for sure spend an evening at the theater at! The mindfulness is evident in all aspects of this production that makes it an exciting experience at the theatre. I would caution you, however, that this production has moments of violence and adult humor/content. It is certainly for mature audiences. 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 Granbury Theatre Company. To quote the words of Monsignor O’Hara in Act II (humorously played by GTC veteran Micky Shearon) “If you see only one Catholic Mass (or musical comedy) this season, this is it.” See “Sister Act” at Granbury Theatre Company, it will be a “comedic” awakening.
Granbury Theatre Company
133 E. Pearl Street, Granbury, Texas 76049.
Plays through September 5.
Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm., Saturdays and Sundays at 2:00 pm.
Ticket prices are as follows:
Floor Seating: $35.00
Balcony Seating: $30.00
For more information, please contact the Box Office at 817-579-0952 or visit: granburytheatrecompany.org