SISTER ACTMusic BY Alan Menken
Lyrics by Glenn Slater
Book by Cheri Steinkellner
Additional Book Material by Douglas Carter Beane
Director – Cheryl Denson
Music Director – Adam C. Wright
Choreographer – Kellie Carroll
Scenic Designer – Donna Marquet
Costume/Wig Designer – Ryan Matthieu Smith
Lighting Designer – Julie Simmons
Sound Designer/Mixer – Mark Howard
Properties Designer – Jane Quentin
Production Stage Manager- Hillary Collazo Abbott
Assistant Stae manager – Jessica Updike
Deloris Van Cartier – Cherish Robinson
Mother Superior – Mary Tiner
Sister Mary Robert – Laura Lyman Payne
Sister Mary Patrick – Caitly Poison
Sister Mary Lazarus – Laurel Collins
Monsignor OHara/Ensemble – Chance Harmon
Curtis Jackson – John Avant III
Eddie Souther – Jamall Houston
TJ – Sheridan Monroe
Joey – Bryson Peterson
Pablo – Gustavo Perez Diaz
Sister Mary Martin-of-Tours – Ivy Opdike
Sister Mary Theresa/Waitress – Laura Yancey
Michelle/Sister Mary Augusta/Ensemble – Ashley Waddy
Ernie/Ensemble – Gabriel Ethridge
Sister Mary Lucia/Ensemble – Thi Le
Sister Mary Irene/Ensemble – Margaret Vogel
Sister Mary Stephen/Ensemble – Crystal Wiliams
Sister Mary Celeste/Ensemble – Ursusal Villareal
Ensemble- Braden A. Bailey
Ensemble- Jeremy Davis
Reviewed Performance: 10/27/2019
Reviewed by Mark-Brian Sonna, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
The story line is very basic and hews closely to the film by the same name. A wannabe star and club singer witnesses a murder and for her protection takes refuge in a nunnery. Forced to do something so as to not succumb to boredom she takes on the nun’s chorus and transforms them into a musical sensation and becomes famous. This straightforward storyline is very easy to follow and not particularly deep but it does set up some very comedic moments, especially between the mother superior who wants to keep the status quo, and the protagonist Deloris Van Cartier who wishes to contemporize the chorus. Since the musical takes place in the late 1970’s at the height of Disco and Soul, the thought of uptight nuns jamming to the “modern” beats of the era is hilarious. Also, for good measure, a few early 80s songs styles are throw in.
With fabulous sets by Donna Marquet, costumes and wigs by Ryan Matthieu Smith, props by Jane Quentin, the audience is immersed into the period. Not only is this musical is spot on in capturing the vibe of the time, it also is well executed. Every dime spent on the production side of this show was well spent.
The large cast does a commendable job of infusing the appropriate energy for such a silly musical. Cheryl Denson’s direction keeps the pace flowing and titillates the audience of what is to come. An example of this is the dinner scene at the nunnery. A long table is set with all the nuns sitting on one side. The audience knows that this set up is reminiscent of DaVinci ‘s painting of The Last Supper and we anticipate the moment when the poses of the painting will be re-created. The scene at the very last moment appears. It is a moment of pure joy for the audience.
Denson has also done an excellent job of casting this production. Cherish Robinson who plays the lead Deloris Van Cartier knocks it out of the park. She is sassy with a voice that is full of sonic bliss. She is also a talented comedian. As a performer she knows how to command attention from the moment she steps on stage, but also knows when to cede it allowing the other characters to shine. A natural chemistry flows out of her with all the other performers helping make the relationships between the characters effortless.
Mary Tiner was the perfect choice as the Mother Superior. Her ever increasing dismay of having to deal with Deloris’ taking over of the chorus’ musical selections and performances along with her supplications to God to make it all stop are hilarious. Tiner imbues this harsh character with sympathy so much so that at times we root for her, though she is one of the antagonists. I can’t think of any performer in the area that could have played this role better.
As Sister Mary Robert, Laura Lyman Payne delivers with much honesty one of the best songs in the show “The Life I Never Led”. Though the show is mad-cap it does pause for this serious song with smart lyrics. Thematically it doesn’t fit the show, which in turn calls attention to the weakness in the musical: The musical suddenly attempts to imbue depth when it is not needed. Up to this point everything has been a caricature, so to have a serious moment occur is incongruent. This said, the tune is marvelous, I can see why the composer Menken and Lyricist Slater kept it in. Payne delivers it with much conviction, she is a stand out.
Jamall Souther plays Eddie who is the cop and love interest of Deloris. Phenomenal. His voice is sublime. When he sings the song “I Could Be That Guy” it stops the show. He captures not just the character but the essence of what this musical is supposed to be. Most of the songs are referential to pop, disco, rock, soul, and blues as they were sung n the 70s and early 80s. Souther’s delivery immediately recalled the style of Luther Vandross. Like Vandross he possesses that velvet sound with a few vocal swoops added for good measure to perfectly encapsulate the musical dynamics of the era. As an actor he charms the audience with his portrayal.
Most of this cast hits all the right notes such as Chance Harmon surprising take of Monsignor O’Hara that left the audience in stitches every time he was on stage or Bryson Petersen as the wannabe thug Joey who looks silly in his attempt to be intimidating.
I must give a shout out to the stage mangers Hillary Collazo Abbott and Jessica Updike. This show is technically complex and has a large cast. In order to have a show run so smoothly it requires strong stage managers. Seldom do stage managers get the credit they deserve in a review, but when a musical is presented so well, it means the back stage crew is also on their game.
There are very few un-popped kernels in this production. But there were a few that were noticeable.
The flaws in the performances is because some of the actors’ approach to the roles were forced or uneven. John Avant III as Curtis Jackson should simply be intimidating, but it came across as if he were “acting” this way. He also, at times, had difficulty finding his pitch. Laurel Collins as Sister Mary Lazarus had great line deliveries but was inconsistent in her physicality; the choices she made were spot on, the problem was she wasn’t always consistent.
Other hard kernels: The choreography. While Kellie Carroll captured the flavor of the late 70’s and early 80’s in her dance steps, with many allusions to the TV show Solid Gold, she relied too frequently on the same tropes. It became repetitive. There was a woeful lack of synchronicity by the performers. The opening musical number should have reminded us of Dianna Ross and the Supremes, but quite frequently the timing in the movement and poses was off. The same could be said with most of the dance sequences. The dancing was under rehearsed.
Adam C. Wright who served as the musical director and conductor missed a great opportunity in elevating the musical to a higher level. Each song should have made the audience chuckle as we recognized the musical style or genre. The way the orchestration was played was to have every instrument play at the same volume level thus making everything sound muddled. With a nine piece band there were enough instruments to go around. I say band instead of orchestra because bands were very popular in that era and the songs are throwback in style. He also directed the singers to sing the score without alluding to the period dynamics so that each song sounded pretty much the same. It became very evident that this was choice when Jamall Houston sang in the style of Vandross. Vocally he was on point while the musical back-up sounded generic. In fact, because I had not looked at the program till intermission, I thought the Water Tower Theatre was saving money by using “canned” music and that there wasn’t a live orchestra.
While eating popcorn there are also some partially popped kernels: The lighting by Julie Simmons falls into this category. There is splendid use of colors and wonderful patterns are splashed onto the stage. The shifts between scenes helps guide the audience’s attention as to where to look. But, at times, the scenes that take place on center stage are darker than they should be.
The other half popped kernel is the book of the show and the final song. Act 1 is the weaker of the two acts. At times the script plods with too much exposition and the dialogue isn’t as funny. Act 2 definitely zings. Unfortunately, the climactic song isn’t the best of the score. While the performers give it their all and it should encourage the audience to clap along, it’s just “meh.” This said, you do leave the theatre with a big smile on your face and with a bit of an adrenaline rush because the overall production is so enjoyable.
Kudos to the Water Tower Theatre for mounting a solid production of Sister Act. If you need to escape from the grim realities of the world, Sister Act, will take you to heaven. Like a bag of popcorn, it satiates that need for a fun snack.
Water Tower Theatre at the Addison Conference and Theatre Centre
15650 Addison Road, Addison TX 75001
Now through November 10, 2019
Performances are Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30 PM, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM, and Sundays at 2 PM. Tickets $41. For information and tickets visit www.WaterTowerTheatre.org or call 972-450-6232.