The Stadium Theatre’s production of Sister Act may not take you to heaven (especially considering some of the devilish humor you’ll find yourself laughing at), but it does make for a fun night of theater, featuring a wildly talented and enthusiastic cast.
Based on the 1992 Whoopi Goldberg-led film, this stage adaptation features some notable changes, including a funk/disco-infused score by Alan Menken rather than reworkings of popular songs from the ‘50s and ‘60s. Most of the songs are rather forgettable, but are carried off well by the vocal powerhouse leads under the musical direction of “His Holiness” Alex Tirrell (at the very end, Tirrell pokes his mitre-clad head out of the pit to appear as the Pope) and booty-shaking nuns choreographed by Kaylee Arruda.
To fill a role made famous by Whoopi Goldberg is a massive feat, but Maria Norris’ presence and powerful voice make her an excellent fit for Deloris, the over-confident, down-on-her-luck nightclub singer seeking refuge in a convent after witnessing her boyfriend, Curtis (comedian Jay Are Adams, making his Stadium Theatre debut), murder one of his minions. She has her share of starpower numbers, from her mantra of “Fabulous, Baby!” to “Raise Your Voice” (in which she takes control of the choir and encourages the sisters to unleash their vocal potential) to “Sister Act,” where she realizes the importance of sisterhood over her pursuit of the spotlight.
As Deloris hides from her bloodthirsty ex, Mother Superior (Linda Barbieri) is struggling to save the church from being bought out by two antique-dealing “bachelors,” and, in her eyes, Deloris is a distraction that could lead them all to ruin and sin. Her lines are chock full of sarcastic quips, and Barbieri’s ability to maintain the prim propriety of the character through these makes it all the more hilarious. “Haven’t Got a Prayer” allows her to show off her operatic chops.
The most prominent sisters include Sister Mary Lazarus, the sarcastic choir director (Connie Anderson), Sister Mary Patrick, who is absurdly cheerful (Ashley Lopes) and Sister Mary Robert, a shy young postulant (Temma Beaudreau). Beaudreau, in particular, shines in the power ballad “The Life I Never Led,” in which she contemplates leaving the convent, with effortless and effervescent vocals that bring the house down. Assisting in their efforts to turn this house of worship into a house of funk is Monsignor O’Hara (John K McElroy II), who becomes an over-the-top MC for the nuns’ performances.
For Deloris’ obligatory love interest (because what would a musical be without a romantic subplot?), we have Jonathan Grice as Eddie, the police officer devoted to protecting Deloris, who has had a crush on her since high school. Grice is deliciously awkward, falling out of his chair while making assurances of his competency as a cop, but he transforms into one smooth operator by the end. His velvety vocals make “I Could Be That Guy” one of the highlights of the show, featuring not just one, but two breakaway costumes. Between this and the glammed-out habits, costume designers Liz Pisello and Jeanine Robin had their work cut out for them.
Adam’s Curtis is an absolutely chilling villain, especially in his menacing delivery in love-song-turned-lethal, “When I Find My Baby.” His henchmen make for a hilarious motley gang of goons consisting of his dimwitted nephew TJ (Peter Hernandez), Pablo, who seems to know very little English, and Joey, who looks like Severus Snape with a moustache. They function as Curtis’ backup dancers, whose overzealous enthusiasm makes up for their lack of precision. “Lady in the Long Black Dress” allows them to step out of Curtis’ shadow as they hilariously explain their plan to sneak into the convent by seducing the nuns in a number that features a lot of pelvic thrusting and exposed chest hair.
The sets, designed by director Corey Cadigan, and the lighting, designed by Adam Clark, work cleverly in tandem to gradually make the church feel more and more like a nightclub with every big dance number.
Sister Act is not exactly an example of brilliant storytelling; it has its share of plotholes, and some relationships aren’t given the stage time they need to blossom organically – namely, the romantic relationship between Eddie and Deloris and Deloris’ mentorship of Sister Mary Robert. The charm of Sister Act lies not in the storytelling, but rather in the glitz and glamour and the inherent hilarity that comes from dancing nuns. It is also fantastic to see the Stadium choose a show that features such a diverse main cast, though it is lamentable that it has such a short run, confined to only one weekend.
Sister Act runs at the Stadium Theatre through Feb 17. For tickets, visit stadiumtheatre.com or call the box office at 401-762-4545.